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Pakistan’s Support of the Taliban Might Come Back to Haunt Islamabad

The scenes from recent Taliban military successes in Afghanistan were positively received among members of Pakistan’s security establishment. While denying it publicly, these Pakistani hardliners have funneled support to the Taliban for decades. If the current trajectory of the conflict continues, they will get what they wished for: a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. A Taliban triumph, however, will provide a merely pyrrhic victory for Pakistan, a victory that it will come to regret.

Pakistan’s Support for the Taliban

Since the Taliban’s emergence almost three decades ago, Pakistan has continuously provided a safe haven and financial and military assistance to the Taliban. Following the U.S. invasion in 2001, Pakistan became a safe haven for Al-Qaeda’s leadership as well. There are a couple of reasons why Pakistan continues its support for the Taliban.

First, Pakistan’s security apparatus believes that the Taliban gives it strategic depth, securing the Afghan frontier and permitting the concentration of Pakistani forces on the Indian frontier. The Taliban is the only ally of Pakistan among Afghanistan’s political actors. Pakistan believes that maintaining positive relations with the organization will prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for anti-Pakistan militants and outside powers.

Second, Pakistan fears that targeting Afghan militant groups will invite retaliation against Pakistani targets. While Pakistan sponsors these groups, it lacks full control of them. Nevertheless, it continues to argue to the contrary, believing that this strengthens its position in international bargaining.

Third, Pakistan fears a strong and independent Afghanistan that is aligned and supported by India. Such an Afghan-Indian alliance, Pakistan believes, will encircle Pakistan. The 2011 Afghanistan-Indian strategic partnership agreement and the recent call by Ambassador Mamundzay, the top Afghan diplomat in Delhi, for India to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, increases Pakistan’s paranoia regarding Indian engagement in Afghanistan.

What Can Go Wrong for Islamabad?

Internationally, the Taliban takeover will affect Pakistan’s strategic depth and its diplomatic relations with its neighbors.

First, as mentioned earlier, Pakistan sees the Taliban in Afghanistan as its strategic depth in its confrontation with India. The Taliban, however, has its own interests. The Taliban would probably intensify its diplomatic campaign to gain international legitimacy. India has already established a new direct line to the Taliban and an Indian delegation has met Taliban officials last month in Doha. Normalization between the Taliban and India will undermine Pakistan’s conception of its strategic depth.

Second, Pakistan should expect increasing pressure from its Islamic neighbors Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. These countries have accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban in the past, and with the intensification of fighting between the Taliban and Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen warlords, this pressure is sure to increase.

Third, with diminishing influence over the Taliban and increasing international demand to rein in and influence the Taliban, Pakistan will find itself in a diplomatic nightmare. A victorious Taliban is less likely to defer to Islamabad in its moment of victory. At the same time, the international community will increasingly defer to Pakistan to act and impose its influence over the Taliban. The failure of Pakistan to influence the Taliban will inflict a blow on its international bargaining power.

Domestically, the Taliban takeover will create economic and security challenges for Pakistan. First, escalation of the war and a Taliban takeover will propel a massive flood of refugees into Pakistan. These refugees would join the 3 million people already seeking refuge in Pakistan. As Pakistan has its hands full, these new refugees will further exacerbate its economic situation.

Second, a Taliban win will embolden the jihadists’ anti-government factions in Pakistan. In the past, the Taliban has already inspired extremist movements in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban have launched attacks against Pakistani targets, horrifically killing 132 kids in an army school in Peshawar in 2014 in one such attack. Taliban success in neighboring Afghanistan will lead to the import of sectarian violence from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Conclusions

While the Pakistani military establishment is cheerful about the recent Taliban successes, Pakistan might face an international and domestic blowback if the Taliban will take over Afghanistan. It might be in Pakistan’s best interest to confidentially ask the U.S. to intensify its air support to Afghan government forces operations to prevent the Taliban from taking over.

The Reemergence of Right-Wing Extremism Groups in the United States

It has been a scary realization for many people in the United States as more people are witnessing the re-emergence of right-wing extremism. We are living through a moment of profound yet positive change in attitudes toward race, with a majority of citizens coming to understand more about the deeply embedded historical legacy of racist structures and ideas.

However, there is another more dangerous, group of people. They are seeking to rehabilitate the toxic political notions of racial superiority and stoke fear of immigrants and minorities to inflame grievances for political ends. Furthermore, they are attempting to build a notion of an embattled white majority that has to defend its power. This, achieved by any means necessary.

Extremism in the US

In the United States, terrorists are usually associated with one of the six most commonly known ideologies: right-wing extremism, left-wing extremism, environmental extremism, nationalist/separatist extremism, religious extremism, and single-issue extremism. In recent years, the threat of right-wing terrorism in the United States appears to be rising at an alarming rate. More specifically, we have seen an increase in white supremacy anti-government extremists, such as militia groups and so-called sovereign citizens interested in plotting attacks against government, racial, religious, and political targets in the United States.

The terms “right-wing extremists” and “left-wing extremists” do not correspond to political parties in the United States, such as Republicans or Democrats. However, the election of Donald Trump as the President has been cited as a factor in inciting the reemergence of activists in America. These groups both reject left-wing ideology and mainstream conservatism.

The Increase in Recent Years

Another huge factor inciting this reemergence is the role of social media in promoting these ideologies. White supremacy has made its return to mainstream media, as deadly acts of violence are occuring in states all around the country. A prominent US civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that it is currently tracking more than 1,600 extremist groups within the United States.

This has inevitably led to an increase in domestic terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists in the United States. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of such attacks was five or fewer per year. The number of attacks then rose to 14 in 2012. This remained consistent between 2012 and 2016, with a mean of 11 attacks and a median of 13 attacks. This then jumped to 31 in 2017 and has continued to rise every year since then. Most recently, in the summer of 2020, there was a specific increase in the number of attacks on protesters and street violence. This included car attacks, street fights, small explosives, and many non-fatal shootings.

How to Move Away from This Upward Trend

U.S. federal and local agencies need to shift some of their focus and intelligence resources to penetrating far-right networks and preventing future attacks. There needs to be a challenge of exposing white nationalist ideologies and the opportunistic politicians who are appropriating their language. This will demonstrate to the American people that these ideas are fundamentally un-American and are all too often a cover for corruption, graft, and racism.

In an analysis of the January 6th Capitol Hill riots, it became clear that an alarmingly significant number of members of both police and military had joined in on attacking the nation’s institutions. Consequently, many have been exposed to disinformation that led them to conclude that violent action was needed to save democracy. This kind of information will be crucial for prevention efforts. Furthermore, to stop the radicalization and recruitment of white supremacism in many countries. However, it will also be imperative in understanding how to address and remove the motivations for joining.

The New Reality in Afghanistan Requires the Afghanistan Government to Change Its Strategy

Since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement in February 2020, the Taliban has accelerated its offensive, securing major gains. The Taliban has expanded its control of the country and captured border crossings, routing entire Afghan National Army units in the process.

Clearly, the current government strategy is failing. The Afghan government should realize the fact that without the presence of U.S. and NATO troops, they are the weaker side in this war. Instead of denying it, the Afghan government should adopt a new strategy that better represents the evolving reality in its war against the Taliban.

Current Strategy

Operationally, under the authority of Joint Order 125, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) holds an active-defense posture, concentrating on defending major provisional capitals. The Active Defense consists of ANDSF patrolling forward from checkpoints, conducting limited offensive actions and counterattacks within the vicinity of checkpoints, and consolidating checkpoints. With the exception of the Special Security Forces, the Afghan conventional forces rarely take the fight to the Taliban and increasingly often surrender without a fight.

Diplomatically, the Afghan government continues to ask the U.S. to keep its contractors in Afghanistan and its air support to Afghan troops. With diminishing U.S. military presence, the government also calls on other countries to provide technical and anti-terrorism operation support. At the same time, the Afghan government maintains its commitment to peace talks with the Taliban.

Recommendations

The following recommendations are based on two of Sun Tzu’s hierarchy of strategies, attacking the enemy’s strategy and disrupting the enemy’s alliances.

First, the Taliban strives to gain international and domestic recognition. Domestically, the Taliban tries to rebrand itself as a capable government able to provide the population with basic needs. Internationally, the Taliban strives to expand its international recognition. From its Doha-based political office, Taliban officials visit world capitals and conduct negotiations.

To confront the Taliban domestically, the Afghan government should focus on the population. Using tools of propaganda, the government should portray the Taliban as corrupt, oppressive, and foreign-controlled. With more than 60 percent of the Afghan population under the age of 24, the majority of the population never lived under Taliban rule and are not familiar with the organization’s ways. With increasing reports of Taliban committed assassinations and executions of government forces and officials, oppression of women, and reports of foreign fighters in its ranks, the government could mobilize the population against the Taliban.

Internationally, the Afghan government should defame the Taliban as untrustworthy and urge world governments to refrain from negotiating with the Taliban and providing it a façade of international recognition. The continued participation in the peace talks with the Taliban should also be reconsidered. The participation of the government provides the Taliban recognition with no substantial gains for the government.

Furthermore, the Taliban knows that the government forces are static, trying to keep control of provincial capitals. While the government forces are pinned down in cities, the Taliban takes control of more territories and expands its operations in the north. This dynamic needs to change and the government needs to take the initiative.

The government should retreat from “lost causes” such as defending overrun southern districts and solidify the government’s control in the central and northern regions. Then, it should wage guerrilla warfare in Taliban-controlled regions against the Taliban’s extended supply lines, symbols of governance, and political organizations. The successful mobilization of militias is key in bolstering the capacity of the pro-government forces. The “glue” that connects the members of these militia’s together, ethnic identity and strong anti-Taliban sentiment, decreases the chances of desertion.

Second, the Afghan government needs to disrupt the enemy’s alliances. Pakistan, traditionally perceived as the Taliban’s main ally, should be the main effort. The potential Taliban takeover of Afghanistan raises concerns in Pakistan’s halls of power. A Taliban victory will embolden Pakistan’s own anti-government Islamist movements and hinder the country’s stability. The Afghan government should take advantage of Pakistan’s concerns and urge Islamabad to cease its support of the Taliban.

Conclusion

The successful Taliban offensive requires the Afghan government to rethink its strategy. Acknowledging the reality on the ground should propel the government to consider such a change. Attacking the enemy’s strategy and its alliances is a good first step in changing the tide of war.

The Crisis in Cabo Delgado: A Familiar Road to Extremism

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

Cabo Delgado, the northernmost region of Mozambique, has been plagued by a radical Islamist insurgency since 2017. But it is only in the last couple of months that the conflict has become a staple of the international news cycle. This relatively low-level insurgency has been carried out by Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ), locally known as al-Shabaab (the youth).

The dramatic siege of Palma, where they terrorized a large district capital for four days in March, and the growing identification of ASWJ with the Islamic State, has prompted a recent whirlwind of pledges and policy responses from international actors.

Though next week’s piece will discuss the methods and missteps of the government and its foreign partners in handling the crisis, we must first understand this seemingly rag-tag group that has evoked such a mass mobilization of troops and resources from around the world.

Identities Along the Coast

Islam has a long history in Mozambique, dating to the 8th century when Muslim traders and conquerors began traversing much of the Indian Ocean, including East Africa. For centuries, Sufism, or mystic Islam, was dominant among Cabo’s Muslims. But the global expansion of traditionalist Salafism and Saudi-oriented Wahhabism in the 1950s and ‘60s produced greater antagonism towards older forms of Islam in Cabo. The new imams and cadres criticized Sufism for allegedly deviating from Islamic doctrine and being too accepting of Western vices and values. 

Three such mosques became staples of the community in Mocímboa da Praia, a district in Cabo Delgado. There, preachers and coastal youth were put in touch with the larger transnational network and ideology of Salafism. Particularly, the teachings of the late Sheikh Rogo. Rogo, sanctioned by the US and UN for supporting Somalia’s al-Shabab, sought the creation of an Islamic State. Upon his death, several of his students immigrated to Cabo. Even though the three mosques have since been shuttered by authorities, many of their adherents became foot soldiers for the nascent ASWJ.

But the at-risk youth who populate Cabo Delgado, are just as vulnerable to socioeconomic pressures as they are to the ideological. ASWJ’s mixture of fundamentalism and banditry offers a sense of belonging, alongside material gains to Cabo’s youth. These young people have been largely disengaged and disillusioned with Mozambican politics, living under the same party their whole lives, with very little economic opportunity even when a trove of natural gas is discovered right in their community.

Relative deprivation theory, elucidated in Ted Gurr’s 1970 classic Why Men Rebel, holds that social upheaval occurs when communities see opportunities that they can’t access. One then understands the path connecting long-abandoned youth to an insurgency eager for recruits.

Identities Exploited for Violence

The March 2021 siege of Palma, capital of Cabo’s northernmost district, can be seen as the culmination of four years of skirmishes and terror across the Mozambican-Tanzanian frontier. ASWJ’s structure and membership originally came from the three mosques in Mocímboa da Praia. It was there that they first declared war. Since their two-day occupation of Mocímboa da Praia in 2017, ASWJ has rapidly increased the scale and number of attacks. This was from 110 attacks between October 2017 and June 2019, to 357 in the first nine months of 2020 alone.

Similar economic woes and shared communal identities have also caused many Tanzanians to come across the border and fortify ASWJ’s numbers and resources. Adding to their momentum, in 2019 the Islamic State (IS), claimed ASWJ as a branch of its Central Africa Province. Consequently, observers have noted that ASWJ uses similar tactics to IS and sometimes waves its notorious black flag during raids.

In what seems like death by a thousand cuts, the people and infrastructure of Cabo Delgado have been bled dry by hit-and-run tactics and cruel, destructive violence. Over 4,000 have died and 600,000 have been displaced thus far. Consequently, the UN recently warned that almost one million people face severe hunger in the region.

Barely able to regain Palma, Mozambican forces will likely be unable to determine the death toll from this bold assault. As a result, the government believes it will take at least $114 million to rebuild Palma. Now the government, much like the Portuguese half a century ago, is left to deal with an insurgency in a region where outside involvement has rarely been constructive or peaceful, and guerrillas are able to sustain themselves for years on end.

A great deal of troops, guns, and finances will be siphoned into the area, but blind violence will likely be unable to dislodge the insurgency. This insurgency is dually rooted in the spiritual conceptions the people have of themselves and the very real experiences they live through every day. Only by understanding this can effective policy be made.

 

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.

Rise to Peace