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The Impact of the Withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan on the Hazara People

The Hazara people are a Persian-speaking, predominantly Shi’a ethnic group, a religious minority among the country’s majority Sunni population. Comprising 10-20% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people, the minority Shi’a have faced systematic discrimination from the majority Sunni population throughout the centuries and from ISKP and the Taliban more recently.After the fall of Taliban in 2001, Hazaras embraced hopes for a new Afghanistan in terms of political representation and greater access to education for women.

The ongoing peace process with the Taliban and the withdrawal of US troops pose a serious threat to the Hazara community, who now fear that Afghanistan could descend into full-scale civil war. Last but not least, terrorist networks may find fertile ground to grow or consolidate their influence in this crisis.

This could expose the Hazara to greater attacks, like the May 8th attack on the Syed Al-Shahada School in Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul, which left 85 Hazara dead, including schoolgirls between the ages of 11 and 17.

Among the Hazara, education and civic engagement have long represented a form of resistance to oppression and injustice. For this reason, this Shi’a minority’s voice needs to be included in the Afghan peace process.

According to EASO, 3000 Hazaras were killed under Taliban rule between 1994 and 2001. As mentioned above, after the fall of Taliban in 2001, the Karzai government (2001-2014) gave more rights to the Hazara community, which led to a gradual process of female empowerment.

It is also worth mentioning some of the Hazara women who contributed to shape the political and social context in Afghanistan at that times. Sima Samar served as the first Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2003 and was the first female Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Habiba Sarābi became the first female governor of Bamyan Province in 2005 and Uzra Jafari was appointed mayor of Nili (Daykundi Province) in 2008. According to the Afghan women’s activist, Zareen Taj, those women broke traditional taboos and had an impact on the political agenda of the country thanks to education, civic engagement, and the support of the international community.

But the Hazara people are seen as a significant threat to terrorist groups as “heretical”, as Shi’a, as well-educated participants in Afghan society. Terrorist groups such as ISKP would carry out attacks at hospital and educational facilities. These are ideal targets to prove that the government is not capable of protecting its most vulnerable citizens. Echoing the words of Zareen Taj, “for my people, obtaining an education is our best hope at weakening the power of terrorists in Afghanistan.”

The data reported below will help analyze the trend of terrorist groups targeting the Hazara after the fall of Taliban.

Between January 2009 and December 2015, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported five incidents targeting the Hazara community. AIHRC recorded further five attacks against Hazaras in 2015-2016, which caused the death of 156 people and the wounding of 479. In 2017, eight attacks targeting Hazaras took place and nineteen in 2018, showing a clear increase in attacks towards the minority group. According to USCIRF, ISKP attacks on the Hazara escalated in brutality, with 300 casualties in 2018.

UNAMA reported a general decline in the number of casualties in 2019. Another report from the same source recorded an increase in the number of civilian deaths in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

In conclusion, all the communities of the Afghan society should participate in the Afghan peace process and together complete the puzzle for a long-term and sustainable peace in the country. In particular, the Hazaras need to be protected from possible terrorist attacks that are likely to escalate in this transition phase. Not only do they have to be defended from targeted attacks, but a more structural inclusion of minorities should be seen as a mandatory step in the resolution of the conflict and political stability. The resiliency and the cultural resistance showed by the Hazara community, during all these years, should inspire the Afghan peace process.

 

The Colonial Pipeline Cyber Ransomware Attack and the Continued Threat to the United States

Those who were not aware of the cyberattacks in the United States are now very aware of the threat after a ransomware attack forced a pipeline to shut down in early May 2021. The Colonial pipeline is one of the nation’s largest pipelines carrying gasoline and jet fuel from Texas to New York. This sent people into a frenzy, with hour-long lines for the gas stations where people were stocking up on gasoline. Gas stations quickly put restrictions on the number of gallons people could buy.  

The pipeline’s corporate computer networks were hit by a ransomware attack. This is where criminal organizations hold data hostage until the victim pays a ransom. It was confirmed that the FBI was involved in the investigation, as well as the Energy Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The organization identified with orchestrating this attack is called DarkSide. This is a group claiming to be apolitical and stating that their “goal is to make money and not creating problems for society”

This attack showed many people just how big of an effect these attacks can have on not only our energy infrastructure sector but health care, technology, financial sectors. Over the last 5 years, there has been an increasing number of cyber-attacks on the US. Many of these, being ransomware attacks.

A ransomware attack is malicious actors that demand ransom in exchange for decryption. Ransomware actors often target and threaten to sell or leak exfiltrated data or authentication information if the ransom is not paid. Officials didn’t believe the attack was an act of a nation seeking to disrupt the critical infrastructure of the United States.  Instead, a criminal organization that could have a loose affiliation to foreign intelligence agencies.  

Other Areas of Attack

Another major area of attack to the US from a cyberterrorist would be the hacking of hospital databases and machinery. This is especially prevelant in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, Universal Health Services, one of the largest hospital chains in the U.S., was hit with a cyberattack, causing its computers and phone systems to fail. This led to surgeries being canceled and ambulances having to be rerouted as the hospital was trying to address this cyberattack. The attacker was using ransomware software that hijacks the organization’s systems and refuses to turn them over unless the hospital pays the money. The perpetrator or group behind this attack is still unknown and being investigated by the FBI. 

How do these Attacks Occur? 

During this time of the pandemic, the perpetrators of these attacks are taking advantage of many people working from home, accessing control systems remotely. They are able to hack into these systems as well as purchase login information from certain online software. In a recent briefing with members of congress, the Biden administration stated that they intend to crack down on the use of cryptocurrencies in ransomware attacks. This is through more rigorous tracking of proceeds paid to hackers behind the disabling of companies, organizations, and government agencies around the world, according to people familiar with the matter.

The White House has created a ransomware task force and warns American businesses to take urgent security measures to protect against ransomware attacks, as hackers shift their tactics from stealing data to disrupting critical infrastructure.

These attacks demonstrate the importance of boosting U.S. investment in more advanced cyberattack prevention technology. Likewise, in people who surveil the government, corporate, and personal databases for irregularities and signs of attackers.

Azov Battalion – Guardian Angels or Notorious Extremists?

History

Civil unrest took place across Ukraine during the 2014 revolution. This resulted in an overthrow of the elected government led by Viktor Yanukovych. Following the riots, Russia decided to send military units to Crimea and declared the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol as the 84th and 85th federal subjects of Russia. Since then, collisions between pro-Russian separatists and pro-Ukrainian militias have continued.

The Azov Battalion is one of the most well-known military units that emerged during the 2014 Ukrainian crisis. It was initially founded as a voluntary militia in the Azov Sea coastal area. In October 2014, it formally became a branch of the National Guard of Ukraine. The Battalion was first observed on the battleground in Mariupol. Here, they recaptured the town from pro-Russian separatist forces in June 2014. With its rapid growth, Azov Battalion has become an unignorable military force and a tangible icon of Ukrainian patriotism. 

Ideology

The Azov Battalion faces accusations claiming its close ties with neo-Nazi ideology when it was first recognized by the international society. In 2014, a German public broadcaster named ZDF released videos showing Azov soldiers wearing helmets with the Nazi Swastika and SS symbols.

The Guardian describes Azov’s symbol as “reminiscent of the Nazi Wolfsangel”, while the battalion denies it by saying it simply represents the letter N and I crossing over each other, implying “National Idea” in the Ukrainian language. Some of Azov’s leaders have been linked to neo-Nazi ideology. Andriy Biletsky, the battalion’s first commander, also leads neo-Nazi organizations “Patriot of Ukraine” and “Social-National Assembly”.

Members of Azov Battalion have attempted to separate themselves from Nazi stereotypes. Instead, they have claimed that the organization is founded upon Ukrainian patriotism. Some of them even take a more “Robin Hood alike” approach, legitimizing their gathering by saying that “the police are ineffective, corrupt or drunk.”

Andriy Diachenko, a spokesman for the Azov Battalion, stated in an interview with USA Today that ‘only 10% to 20% of the group’s members are Nazis’ and it’s all about ‘personal ideology [that] has nothing to do with the official ideology of the Azov.’

The designation of Azov battalion has been controversial internationally. In April 2021, U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin sent a list of “Violent Extreme Right Wing” (vXRM) organizations to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, pressing the Biden administration to recognize these groups as “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTOs). The Azov Battalion is included within this. Kacper Rekawek, an affiliated researcher at Counter Extremism Project, denied such an accusation and stated that Azov “does not engage in terrorist activity.”

Furthermore, former FBI officials called members of Azov Battalion “white supremacists” and compared them to “jihadists,” as enemies of the U.S. in a New York Times op-ed. In response, the Atlantic Council published an article written by Anton Shekhovtsov to deny such a claim. Shekhovtsov states that the nature of Azov Battalion has changed over time. This makes it simply a military unit controlled by the state. He also disproved the connection between the American bomber and the Ukrainian organization, claimed by the New York Times op-ed authors.

Recruitment

When Azov Battalion was first formed, it used extremist ideology and comparatively high pays to attract new members. Evolved over time, it has employed multiple new methods to recruit both domestically and internationally. According to published news pieces, foreign fighters from Sweden, Croatia, the United Kingdom, and even Russia joined Azov Battalion.

In an interview with TIME, an Azov recruiter named Joachim Furholm attributes Azov’s successful propaganda efforts to its pervasive use of social media, especially Facebook. Azov recruiters track potential members and support other right-wing organizations on Facebook. Facebook reacted quickly that it announced to ban Azov’s homepage and related accounts first in 2015 over “hate speech”. However, an article published by Buzzfeed News pointed out that advertisements related to Azov Battalion were still observed on Facebook in November 2020.

Additionally, Azov Battalion also run military summer camps domestically. Here, they taught children aged 9-18, military skills such as shooting rifles, practicing combat poses, and patrolling. Kyiv post reported that strict rules and nationalism ideology are practiced in these camps. In a documentary filmed by the Guardian, trainers at the camps teach children to salute to the Azov flag and shout “Ukraine above all”. Geopolitika, an organization based in Russia, accused such camps of ‘inciting hate by innocent children against ethnic Russians as well as opponents of the Kiev regime.” It also states that such acts are “broadly supported by US military aid”.

Conclusion

As a branch of the National Guard of Ukraine, Azov has transformed from a paramilitary organization to a national force. Its efforts to separate itself from the stereotype of “neo-Nazis” have convinced some. However, it still draws a significant number of critics. The designation of the group should be exercised deliberately and apolitically.

 

Assessing the Effectiveness of Over-the-Horizon Strategies and Its Viability in Afghanistan

As Afghanistan descends into conflict amid the US withdrawal, President Biden and senior military leaders have pledged to maintain “over-the-horizon” capabilities. This is to prevent the fall of Kabul and terrorist organizations from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. The Afghan air force is in an increasingly precarious position to support ground forces. This is because the contract personnel responsible for maintaining its aircraft left with US forces.

As seen by recent Taliban victories, without the threat of air support from the last 20 years, the future of Afghan forces to defend against Taliban offensives is grim. Therefore, it is crucial to understand OTH strategies to effectively assess its potential as an alternative to on-the-ground forces.

Over-the-horizon refers to the capacity to detect, neutralize, and monitor threats from very long ranges using manned or unmanned aircraft. This often comes from hundreds or thousands of miles. The collapse of ANA ranks amid Taliban pressure makes this strategy one of the only ways to slow the Taliban’s advances and counter-terrorists threats.

OTH offers several advantages; it can bypass Afghanistan’s rugged terrain which hindered ground troops and facilitated easy movement for militants. Furthermore, it is not constrained by frontlines. Subsequently, it can now deal debilitating blows to enemy positions, supplies, and infrastructure anywhere in the country. It was arguably the main reason why the Northern Alliance broke the months-long stalemate with the Taliban after 9/11. Similar campaigns in Iraq, Syria, Serbia, and Pakistan provide interesting case studies to evaluate the future viability of OTH targeting in Afghanistan.

The use of air assets in Kosovo, Serbia was one of the first extensive uses of OTH strategy. Because drone technology was in its infancy, techniques to attach munitions to UAVs were not utilized. These made them strictly surveillance platforms. To neutralize targets, they laser-designated the enemy personnel or equipment which would be transmitted to manned aircraft to conduct the strike. Although drones can carrying considerably more weaponry now, this two-aircraft approach may allow for great capacity to target Taliban positions. 

Manned aircraft can carry more ordinance and may assure military leaders with two confirmations (human and video) of targets. Serbian soldiers quickly adapted to UAV strikes by placing anti-aircraft gun in most likely flight paths, concealing tanks and artillery under foliage or infrastructure. Like all enemies, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will have adapted to 20 years of drone attacks. Likewise, OTH must similarly adapt to counter their tactics. 

Across the border in Pakistan, OTH was used extensively to eliminate militants. These were mostly used against those who exploited the Afghan-Pakistan border to avoid death, much to the anger of Pakistani officials. UAVs mitigated physical risk to pilots who could be shot down. Similarly, political risk was mitigated to the President, who would receive backlash for violating a country’s sovereignty. UAVs still crossed into Pakistan but at much lower risk. Subsequently, they presented more favorable optics than a human pilot entering Pakistani airspace.

Despite media reports of drones indiscriminately killing civilians, they were privately supported by Pakistani military leaders and by some civilians. Those of who had grown tired with Taliban atrocities.

According to senior government officials, UAV civilian deaths were routinely reported incorrectly. Consequently, they proved extremely precise in eliminating only Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants. Unfortunately, the death of civilians likely created anti-American sentiment and makes it difficult to evaluate the campaign’s overall effectiveness. Much like the increased safety and precision by drones in Pakistan, an OTH strategy using manned and unmanned aircraft will only increase target precision when used in Afghanistan.

OTH campaigns in Syria and Iraq by Russian and US air assets in their respective conflicts differ from those in Pakistan. This is because they actively support a ground offensive, which is the more traditional way of using airpower. The intervention of each country’s air force decisively changed the course of the conflict. This included saving Bashar Al-Assad from near collapse and giving Iraqi forces a much-needed boost to drive ISIS from its positions in Mosul. The presence of ground troops who were aware of how to communicate with air assets, however, distinguishes this campaign from Afghanistan.

The presence of airbases in-country also contributed to the ability to launch quick, reactive strikes. This is something that is now lost. Tens of thousands of airstrikes later and likely more to come, the OTH strategy gave the Iraqi and Syrian governments time to reorganize their forces and stop their oppositions’ momentum. The objective is similar in Afghanistan. However, policymakers must understand the general limitations of OTH and how Afghanistan’s unique tactical environment could limit its effectiveness.

Afghanistan presents unique challenges to implementing superior air power against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The obvious difference is that without airbases, pilots and UAV will have to fly six to eight hours to get to Afghanistan. This is due to the closest airbases being located in the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait.

The inability to secure basing in Central Asia and Pakistan may severely limit quick strikes. Furthermore, this may provide time for the enemy to move away from the target area. The lack of US presence on the ground will also complicate air-to-ground coordination for strikes. Afghan forces have yet to prove their abilities to remain cohesive under pressure and communicate well with pilots.

In asymmetric warfare where the Taliban blend into the local populace and lack traditional infrastructure attack, OTH is limited. This is without extremely precise discrimination between civilians and combatants. Thus, military leaders must constantly push innovation to increase strike precision. They should also consider how covert, lethal aid by Russia or Iran will pose risks to airframes. This is especially important, with anti-aircraft missiles.

A robust OTH strategy is the only way to delay the Taliban’s quick gains and ensure peace can be implemented in Afghanistan. The ability for Afghan troops to coordinate these strikes with US aircraft will determine the strategies overall success. Over-the-Horizon targeting has the potential to deal devastating blows to the Taliban’s momentum and maintain the remaining stability in Afghanistan. However, US leaders must understand its limitations and constantly push the military to innovate lighter, stronger, and more precise air capabilities.

The Crisis in Cabo Delgado: A Region that Perseveres

This is the first piece in a series examining the ongoing extremist threat in Mozambique.

On March 24th, Islamist insurgents besieged the district capital of Palma in northern Mozambique, leaving dozens dead and a town in ruins. Tens of thousands were uprooted, and Mozambican security forces barely managed to retake Palma, though some believe the insurgents abandoned it willingly. Particularly important for international observers were the hundreds of foreigners residing in Palma. These included those who were primarily there to work at the massive natural gas plant of French multinational Total SA.

Several foreign nationals were killed when they tried to escape a hotel they had been trapped in for days. Consequently, over a hundred others were rescued by private contractors with the South African Dyck Advisory Group (DAG). Locals were largely left to fend for themselves or scramble to nearby settlements.

This dramatic four-day assault renewed attention on a conflict that has been simmering for years. But the Cabo Delgado region, where Palma is located, is no stranger to protracted insurgency and the societal rifts that accompany (and facilitate) it.

The first piece in a series, this article plots the fractious history of Cabo Delgado, both a center of conflict and creative energy in southern Africa. Subsequent articles will dive deeper into the insurgency. This will include what can and is being done to combat it. Intervention by international actors in the region will also inform this discussion. At times, this will be understood as part of the problem, not the solution. Ultimately, the conflict in northern Mozambique goes deeper than War on Terror narratives of Islamist fundamentalism, and must instead be looked at as a series of societal grievances and geopolitical facilitators of violence.

What Colonialism Took

Mozambique’s modern history, as a colony and as a country, is rife with international interference, proxy conflicts, and porous borders through which various insurgencies have spawned. “Discovered” by Vasco de Gama in 1498 and subjected to various forms of Portuguese exploitation in the centuries since, Mozambique was one of the oldest remnants of European colonialism by the era of decolonization in the mid-1900s. The Portuguese were detached, brutal, and extractive in their relations with Mozambique, providing little by way of infrastructure or institutions. Virtually all literate, economically stable Mozambicans (of which there were few) lived in or near the capital of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) in the south. 

Cabo Delgado, the farthest north province, thus was historically one of the most underdeveloped and disconnected from the Portuguese economy, and between 1894 and 1929 was a concession of the royal British Niassa Company. After Niassa, poorly-run peasant cooperatives were undermined and exploited by the Portuguese, who crushed solidarity movements and rounded up locals for forced labor (chibalo). 

The tipping point for anti-colonial consciousness and radicalization came with the Mueda Massacre of 1960 in Cabo Delgado, when the Portuguese killed over 500 locals protesting against economic exploitation and mismanagement. Portuguese repression forced a great many Makonde refugees and migrant workers north into Makonde-majority Tanzania, and Mueda became a cause célèbre for the expatriate independence movement which they would join there. The people of Cabo Delgado thus developed a legacy. This was both as highly mobile people and the rank-and-file of Mozambique’s anti-colonial insurgency. They were largely fighting for independence and community control over resources.

Organized and supported by newly independent Tanzania and its charismatic leader Julius Nyerere, the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) initiated an agrarian, anti-colonial insurgency against the Portuguese on September 25th, 1964. Led by southern Mozambican students and dissidents, but composed mostly of Makonde migrants-turned-soldiers, FRELIMO streamed across the jungles and plateaus of northern and northwestern Mozambique to raid Portuguese patrols and take over rural villages.

Cabo Delgado would become FRELIMO’s main stronghold in this decade-long war for independence, its dense jungles, underdeveloped infrastructure, and largely rural population acting as textbook facilitators of guerrilla warfare. As will be shown later, these factors persist into the present day. Thus, allowing an Islamist insurgency to evolve and barring the Mozambican government from mounting a proper response. 

What Independence Gave

The insurgents finally achieved independence in 1975 but were immediately pulled away from improving the lives of their rural Mozambican supporters by a pro-apartheid, Western-supported insurgency in the center of the country. With the Mozambican Civil War engulfing communities and subjecting the nascent state to a myriad of foreign influences, the hopes of Cabo Delgado and its youth, perhaps the most crucial support system for FRELIMO over the previous decade, would be extinguished. 

In the years following independence, poverty and inequality in Cabo worsened, alongside increases in government corruption and external control of key mining and oil industries. The 2010 discovery of oil in Cabo Delgado did not bring jobs or wealth to its struggling youth. Extractive foreign companies brought their own gas workers from abroad. The corruption, rent-seeking, and inequality that followed became one of the major sources of resentment and radicalization. This was leading up to the 2017 initiation of hostilities by local Islamist insurgents.

Understanding extremism in Cabo Delgado, like in many parts of the world, requires more historical, structural insight than much of today’s security discourse would have it. As we will explore later in the series, strategies of kill and capture, militarization, and repression will merely leave destruction in their wake.

To truly “combat” extremism in Cabo, policy-makers must recognize the traditions of struggle and adaptability among its people. This is essential amongst the youth. War and disappointment have painted their history for a half-century. Nonetheless, an informed development policy and a serious commitment to it would be vital in changing their fortunes.

What Is Next For Turkey in Afghanistan?

Following the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram Airfield, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has become the last stand in America’s 20-year campaign in Afghanistan. With the Taliban on the offensive, the issue of security arrangements at this highly strategic installation must be resolved before the U.S. and NATO complete their withdrawal. 

Recently, Turkey has offered to keep its troops in Afghanistan and continue guarding and operating the airport post-U.S. withdrawal. Before agreeing to this offer, the U.S. and NATO should take into consideration how this offer is going to benefit Turkey’s interests in Afghanistan, its regional aspirations, and its position within NATO.

Background

In 2001, Turkey joined the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan with the condition that its troops will be excluded from conducting explicit counterinsurgency operations. Turkey remained in Afghanistan after the ISAF mission ended as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The 600-strong Turkish force contingent trained, advised, and assisted the 111th Capital Division of the Afghan National Army, the Kabul City Police, and other security agencies in Kabul. 

Furthermore, Turkish troops are guarding and operating the Kabul Airport, Afghanistan’s main gateway. Being a landlocked country with roads deemed unsafe to travel due to security risks, the airport is critical for those actors wanting to sustain a strategic presence in Afghanistan. The airport provides foreign embassies the ability to maintain day-to-day operations and have an emergency evacuation route. It also serves as the port of entry for international aid workers and health care providers that assist in providing basic services. 

Turkey Priorities in Afghanistan

Officially, Turkey states that its foreign policy towards Afghanistan is based on four pillars: “maintenance of unity and integrity of Afghanistan”; “providing security and stability in the country”; “strengthening of broad based political structure in which popular participation is a priority”; “restoring peace and prosperity by eliminating terrorism and extremism”.

Turkey’s actions in Afghanistan, however, should not be seen in isolation, but as a larger effort to extend Turkey’s influence throughout the region. With ambitions for regional leadership, Turkey has been trying to expand its influence through assertive involvement in various neighboring regions, including Afghanistan-Pakistan. While officially working under NATO’s banner, Turkey distanced itself from the U.S.-led war efforts against the Taliban and launched independent diplomatic initiatives. 

First, Turkey focuses on improving trilateral relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Turkey has hosted several Afghan-centric conferences, such as the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, and arranged numerous meetings between Afghan and Pakistani leaders. 

Second, Turkey supports the Turkic language-speaking minorities in Afghanistan by establishing Turkish schools, providing scholarships, hosting local Turkic leaders, supporting cultural immersion experiences, etc. All serve to increase Turkey’s soft power and its regional leadership aspirations in Afghanistan and neighboring Turkic countries.

Third, Turkey believes that by offering to safeguard the Kabul airport post-U.S. withdrawal, it could decrease tensions with the U.S. and improve Turkey’s position within NATO. By taking on a job no one else wants, Turkey could repair its relationship with Washington that has been strained by years of disputes, most intensely Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 Russian missile-defense system that NATO considers a threat to its security. 

Furthermore, if the offer will be accepted, Turkey will gain additional diplomatic leverage in future negotiations with the U.S. and NATO. Already, the European members of NATO are dependent on Turkey for preventing millions of Syrian refugees from crossing into the EU. With Turkey’s growing influence in the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and across the Middle East, the U.S. and NATO could find themselves unable to act, if needed, against malign Turkish policies if they are overly dependent on it. 

Conclusions

With U.S. and NATO troops’ withdrawal almost complete, a solution to the security arrangements at Kabul’s Airport must be found. Turkey’s offer could provide that solution. However, the implications of such a solution should be taken into consideration. By understanding that Turkey’s offer is far from an act of altruism, but rather, of grand Turkish strategy in the Middle East and Central Asia, the U.S. and NATO could make a calculated decision that understands the challenges and implications of accepting Turkey’s offer.

Can We Profile the “Classic Terrorist” in Europe’s Most Deadly Attacks?

Over the last 20 years, the increased presence of terrorism in Europe has prompted many attempts to tackle the causes of radicalisation. In doing so, social scientists, journalists and psychologists have invested time, money, and effort into identifying the people behind some of the deadliest attacks. Despite all efforts, profiling terrorists is still a challenge.

Attempts to categorise martyrdom terrorists according to a single common variable is more of a challenge than we may realise. Data regarding martyrdom terrorists assessed by Lewis Herrington revealed many inconsistencies in existing theories. This is surrounding demographics, age, education, and even religious devotion.

Extremist ideology, psychological explanations and statistics do not always match

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory examines how environmental factors pair with cognitive factors to influence human learning and behaviour. According to the Social Learning Theory, the behaviour of a person is influenced by observational learning of environmental factors. Thus, a person learns their behaviour by observing and imitating the attitudes and emotional reactions of those around them. Social Learning Theory has also been used in attempts to understand where martyrdom terrorists learn their ways. This is often accompanied by an analysis of their upbringing, economic status, religious adherence etc.

This Theory could be applied to the 2012 Toulouse shooting targeting the Jewish community, which killed a teacher and three children during the morning school run. As Herrington recognises, the self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammad Merah who carried out the attack, grew up in a dysfunctional family involved in violence, substance abuse, neglect, and anti-Semitism. The dysfunctional family picture, sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar noted, was evident in most extremists he had interviewed in 2014.

While this is evident in extremists, the statistics for martyrdom terrorists yet again pose an inconsistent figure. 75% of martyrdom terrorists analysed by Herrington experienced a stable upbringing with loving parents.

Additionally, arguments that poverty or lack of education drive young men to commit acts of terrorism, fall short of empirical evidence. This once again highlights the challenges in combatting terrorism through effective policy change in a concentrated area of concern.

Commonalities between martyrdom terrorists

When analysing martyrdom terrorists in Europe, some commonalities were evident. The men who were analysed displayed a clear decline in mental health. Consequently, even if they been assessed as mentally healthy they often struggled with substance abuse. An additional variable identified was the breakdown of their personal relationships.

One theory suggests that the link between substance abuse and martyrdom terrorism is rooted in the fact that substance abuse is connected to a strong sense of shame in the Muslim community. Lewis Herrington’s study found that 74% of martyrdom terrorists developed their substance abuse before turning to Islamic extremism. The theory goes that those with a history of substance abuse found mainstream religion unappealing or uninviting. The members of these communities who experienced a similar past tended to be more inviting. However, they also tended to be more prone to extremism.

Moreover, men pursuing martyrdom terrorism in Europe were documented to have been radicalised from the age of 20. Consequently, the average age of terrorists at the time of their attack was 27.49. Men who displayed extremist tendencies in their adolescent years were less likely to be involved in terrorism in their 20s.

Recommendations

In an attempt to tackle radicalisation, European ministries should consider partnering and financing faith-based drug rehabilitation centres. Organisations which engage with the religious communities may be more effective in providing practical treatment for mental health-related issues and substance abuse in young men.

This in turn could help tackle the isolation many troubled men face, which enables extremist networks to exploit that vulnerability factor in potential recruits.

Additionally, it is recommended that media outlets in Europe proceed with reports on terrorist attacks with caution.  This may be dictated by how the analysis is conducted by journalists. Insight is vital in understanding recruitment methods and how to prevent this. However, empirical evidence must be taken into account before claims can be made. Thus, the immediacy of reporting, unfortunately, opens doors for the possibility of misleading claims. This may be likely regarding the ‘typical terrorist recruit’.

Generating a profile of a classic martyrdom terrorist before consulting experts could lead to a false picture being created that poverty, education and demographics are not just vulnerability factors, but sole characteristics of recruits.

Women’s Roles in Right-Wing Extremism in the United States

All around the world, local law enforcement’s failure to understand the gender dynamics of terrorist organizations has led to many vulnerabilities in people’s safety and security. In the United States, there continues to be more and more evidence being discovered that women are playing key roles in right-wing extremist movements. Fortunately, in recent years, our understanding of female terrorists has improved as more people study this reality and officials stop assuming that women lack the ability to carry out these attacks.

In research conducted by sociologists, Mehr Latif and Kathleen Blee, a list was compiled of the typical roles designated for women in white supremacist groups. The main role for them is to do the “mothering” of the group, both literally and figuratively. If women do not have a “mother” role for the group, another common role women have is as a “sex symbol” for the men. The least common role of the women in these groups is as actual fighters for the cause. Latif and Blee described their role as both providing sexual gratification to male members and participating in violence themselves. However, these roles were designated by far-rightist men. As a result, women’s roles in these groups today are evolving into new ones.

Domestic terror organizations, like many organizations around the world, understand that the best way to appeal to women is by exploiting their inherent altruism and desire to protect children. One of the ways that women are recruited to these far-right groups is through social media “influencers” who distribute propaganda and recruit new members to extremist causes. They often create “mom groups” or lifestyle blogs to reach people who might not otherwise be exposed to political or extremist rhetoric.

The most recent example of women playing roles in domestic acts of terror is from the January 6th insurrection. There was a large array of groups participating in this attack, women were engaged in all aspects and many engaging directly in the violence. One woman directly participating was Rachel Powell aka the “Pink Hat Lady” or “Bullhorn Lady.” She was caught smashing a window of the Capitol with a pipe and yelled instructions to other insurrectionists through a bullhorn. The FBI later raided her home and car only to find numerous “go bags” loaded with ammunition for her registered AK-47, shooting targets with written slogans like “guns don’t kill people, I do,” throwing stars, knives, lighters, zip ties, duct tape, rope, and a tarp. 

Two other women were arrested and charged, Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, after the FBI investigated a selfie video taken of the two inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. They claimed they were there “looking” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “to shoot her in the friggin’ brain.”

Despite all of this, law enforcement officials seem to be paying little attention to the unique role of women in advancing right-wing extremist ideas and has led to a situation in which we refuse to treat female terrorists with the same seriousness and concern with which we treat men. So far, just over 10 percent of federal charges related to the Capitol siege have been brought against women

However, after many studies and observations have been done about why women chose to join terrorist organizations, it seems officials still show little desire to learn about how different a women’s path to domestic terrorism is different from most men.

While more research is needed in regards to the ideological and gendered differences of radicalization, evidence shows that the motivation and process of radicalization looks very different for a 40-year-old American-born mother of eight than an isolated 18-year-old boy who feels like he has nothing to live for in the United States. 

For example, some women who committed acts of violence in the last year in the name of Q-Anon, have explicitly said they were motivated by a desire to protect children from supposed pedophilesResearch on why women join international terrorist groups shows they believe that participating in terrorism could be a way to acquire rights and status, especially in societies and cultures where they are otherwise denied equal treatment.

Scholars Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein found that “radicalized American women tend to commit the same types of crimes and have about the same success rate as radicalized men, yet they are less likely to be arrested and convicted for terrorism-related crimes, highlighting a discrepancy in treatment and leaving a security threat unaddressed.”

The U.S. government continues to underestimate the important roles women can play as perpetrators, mitigators, or targets of violent extremism. This means there will need to be continued research on the roles of these women, better ways to prevent recruitment, and how to spot the signs of a female perpetrator.  

 

The Sahel Region: Current Crisis and Challenges

Context

Over the past fifteen years, the Sahel and West Africa have become the hub of clandestine trafficking and the heart of the fundamentalist terrorist network. The proceeds of illicit trafficking (migrants, drugs, weapons, etc…) and the generous ransoms given by European governments to obtain the release of their citizens, victims of kidnappings, (mostly concentrated in the central-western Sahel), are fundamental sources of financing for terrorism.

The movements linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb (AQIM) and to Daesh are concentrating their tactical projection capacity in the Sahara and the Sahel, territories among the most difficult to manage on the planet in terms of size and climatic conditions, in order to establish an Islamist caliphate from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

AQIM forces are currently present in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Mauritania, but the terrorist network is also easily gaining ground in other states such as Algeria and Tunisia due to successful recruitment drives. Their expansion is based on a strategy articulated in two phases. First, they’ve tried to progressively root themselves in the central-western Sahel. Second, following the gradual extension of their power into neighboring countries, they aim to attract greater finances and greater international media attention, attention only set to increase as Western countries continue to pump resources into stabilizing the area.

A Sahel caught between today’s structural weaknesses and future challenges

The most dramatic effects of recent extremist campaigns are suffered by the local populations, of whom the majority are far from radical in their beliefs. Two coups in Mali, in August 2020 and May 2021, have only accentuated the lack of local administration, the different governments’ inability to unite the country and its ethnic groups, the structural corruption, and the failed attempt to secretly negotiate with extremist parties.

Several factors have also caused great concern not only in Chad but throughout the Sahel region, exponentially increasing the perception of further regional instability. One factor is the recent death of the President of Chad Idriss Déby at the hands of militant forces on April 20, 2021. The other is the unreliability of governments like those of Mali and the Central African Republic, both of which are now witnessing the recent, drastic French decision to suspend years-long military cooperation.

Over the years, major powers such as the United States and Russia, as well as international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, have created different task forces and coalitions to liberate and stabilize the Sahel region, but largely without success.

How is it possible that such a concentration of forces, funds, and efforts has failed to assist the region in building more transparent and effective administrative management? The above-mentioned weaknesses, combined with corruption and lack of state services in local communities, water the increasingly fertile ground for extremist growth and strategic success.

The “multidimensional” international stability operations led by the United Nations, in theory certainly positive, have had negative effects causing instability and scandal. Missteps grew to the point of generating popular protests, in Congo and Mali for example, by the same population to be protected. They have done little to address the problems of local administration, overall security, societal inclusion, and community development.

Conclusion

In the future, the crisis in the Sahel could become increasingly serious in light of the previously-listed structural weaknesses and the growing fatigue of international allies. How should interested parties move forward? There are several hypothetical action plans at both the national and regional levels that could guarantee greater stability for the countries of the Sahel plagued by extremist violence.

First, following coalition failures and the withdrawal of France from Malian soil, the security community should encourage an increase and a change in peacekeeping commitments by organizations such as the UN and the EU, as well as the G5-Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad) and the African Union.

At the regional level, it is essential to underline the fact that up to now military responses have not been sufficient for defeating terrorism, a phenomenon that is primarily social rather than military. Indeed, one might first focus on problems such as unemployment, health care, education, infrastructure, water access, and agricultural support. This is the best way to weaken extremist influences in the Sahel before eradicating them militarily.

Further failure of the various sub-regional, regional, and international organizations involved would allow for greater destabilization and violence, with the potential to expand into even more countries in the region.

Khalid noor Taliban

From Negotiations to the Front Line Fighting the Taliban: Hoping to End Their Fathers’ War

A Rise to Peace Exclusive interview with Khalid Noor, member of the Afghan negotiating team.

Afghan negotiator, Khalid Noor, has been fighting the Taliban alongside his father in northern Afghanistan, with the aim to reverse Taliban advances in Balkh Province. Noor’s diplomatic shift to the military is in response to the Taliban’s military attacks across Afghanistan gaining new territories while pushing back the Afghan security forces.

Driven by a sense of patriotism and a desire to see his country at peace, Khalid Noor believes resisting the Taliban is his duty, stating:

“(We have been trying to negotiate with them, but they would drag their feet). We have no other choice but to continue the fight, given that the Afghan government does not have the capabilities and human resources to fight everywhere.” Noor added: “We are still hopeful that negotiations and a political settlement are in the best interest of Afghanistan and that’s if the Taliban are willing to negotiate or fight. Our stand is clear, that negations are the path to peace and prefer talks over fighting.”

At just 25 years old, Khalid Noor was the youngest negotiator for the Afghan government in the Doha peace talks with the Taliban. The son of a legendary mujahideen commander, Ata Muhammad Noor, and a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and George Mason University, he is capable of bridging the gap between Afghanistan’s traditional politics and its rising younger generation.

As negotiations stalled, the Afghan government with its fragmented leadership has failed to turn back Taliban offensives. Instead, instigating heavy casualties for Afghan forces and territory loss. The situation turned brutal for Afghans when President Biden announced troops withdrawal by September of this year. This ultimately furnished a psychological moral to the Taliban militants, leveraging their cause – the “defeat” of the “world’s super-power.” Whilst Afghan security forces were pushed back by the Taliban, a national mobilization or uprising forces started across Afghanistan. This gave hope, that the Taliban cannot succeed militarily.

Within days and weeks, thousands of Afghans like Khalid Noor, used their ancestors’ guns to defend their communities and loved ones from the Taliban. Among them, women and teenagers as young as 15, have been seen with Ak-47 and machine guns. Instead of returning to Doha, Noor and his two younger brothers, Tariq Noor and Suhaib Noor, opted to defend their home province.

Along with his father, Noor mobilized a militia that intends to retake districts captured by the Taliban. On June 27, we interviewed Khalid Noor regarding his activities on the ground.

Video: by https://www.facebook.com/dw.dari/

Noor stated that thousands of his uprising forces, comprised of the grassroots, are fighting to retake Kaldar, a small district near Afghanistan’s border with Uzbekistan. On June 27, Uzbekistan’s state news agency reported that a Taliban attack on a government checkpoint in Kaldar, forced 17 Afghan soldiers to retreat. This left the district in Taliban control. Only days later, with Noor’s forces on the front lines, the district governor’s office and police station were retaken by government forces.

Noor reports that the Taliban has engaged in little face-to-face combat. Instead, they have primarily focused on guerrilla tactics. This has included improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as artillery strikes targeting local infrastructure.

“The next target will be Balkh district, which is near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif,” said Noor. Balkh, the capital of Mazar-e-Sharif, has been seized by the Taliban recently. However, Noor’s operation days later was a huge success.

The Taliban do not have strong grassroots support in northern Afghanistan, unlike other parts of the country. However, in the last decade, their support has grown. This is primarily due to the government’s inability to secure the region. During their regime in the 1990s, the Taliban left a dark chapter with bitter memories. This was due to their destructions and killings of thousands of people when they overran Mazar-e-Sharif. The majority of Noor’s forces are volunteers who are willing to fight and prevent another catastrophe.

While demanding, these district-by-district advances are slow and dangerous, but the only way for the uprising militias to retake Taliban-held territory with their limited resources.

In response to Taliban aggression, forces like Noor’s are rising across Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani has called on them to form a “united front” to support the Afghan security forces, but their efforts currently appear uncoordinated and localized. Ata Muhammad Noor recently presided over a meeting of the political parties in northern Afghanistan and was subsequently selected as head of the military council for National Mobilization.

Noor’s forces have been on the front lines against the Taliban for weeks now and yet have over 22 casualties; six killed and 16 wounded. “The first three of our soldiers martyred by IED and the rest including four of my own personnel guards died in face-to-face combat,” said Noor. 

But Noor understands the potentially harmful implications of an uncoordinated militia-led resistance. His father, during the 1990s, was party to the intra-mujahideen civil war that left Afghanistan in ruins and without a government after the Soviet withdrawal.

It is very dangerous if we [Afghans] go back to the ‘90s. That’s why my father has been pushing the government to work together to control the public uprising forces to avoid any future crisis. (My father believes in consensus. He sees a united front and voice the only way forward; a front that will decide unitedly at this difficult moment),” said Khalid Noor.

It will be up to young Afghan leaders like Noor to ensure that Afghanistan progresses into the future without forgetting the important lessons of its past.


Ahmad Mohibi, Founder of Rise to Peace

Rise to Peace