The President's Take
On the first working day of every month, Crisis Group refreshes CrisisWatch, our early-warning tool providing regular updates on the most significant conflicts around the world. It’s one of our most popular features because it is an inestimable resource for all who care about conflict and want to know both the dangers that lurk and the opportunities that arise. Beginning this month, I will add a brief commentary of my own.
This time, I am highlighting two conflict situations: the Korean peninsula, where the potential for a catastrophe of untold proportions comes hand-in-hand with a rare chance for de-escalation; and Israel-Palestine, where a conflict that remains dormant until it inevitably flares up was made more dangerous by the U.S. president’s pronouncements.
As to the former: North and South Korea have agreed to resume contacts in the context of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics; Pyongyang put some of its more provocative actions on the back burner; and Washington postponed its military exercises. These steps should be built upon to avoid an outcome as absurd as it would be tragic: having the U.S. risk a nuclear war in order to avoid one.
As to the latter: for some time now, one of President Abbas’s chief functions has been to maintain as many illusions as possible amid widespread Palestinian disillusionment – with the peace process, the U.S., non-violence, and the two-state solution. Through his actions and words, President Trump has been systematically stripping away even the pretense of an illusion. The danger is that he reap what he has sowed.
President & CEO
Suspected Boko Haram (BH) militants increased attacks in south east and insecurity persisted in west. In south east, suspected BH militants attacked army positions in Toumour, east of Diffa 17 Jan, reportedly killing at least seven soldiers, at least one civilian also killed. BH militants attacked National Guard outpost near Chetimari, about 20km from Diffa, at least two soldiers and several militants reportedly killed. Govt early Jan extended state of emergency for another three months and extended by unspecified period 31 Dec deadline for BH militants to surrender; 26 BH militants reportedly surrendered in Diffa 16 Jan. In west, armed men seen destroying communication posts in several places in Tillabery region mid-Jan; security forces claimed to have prevented assailants destroying communication posts in Banibangou area 17 Jan, killing up to fifteen. Civil society-led protests against 2018 finance law continued 14 Jan in Niamey, Zinder and Dosso.
Govt and U.S. signed agreement 2 Dec authorising U.S. to conduct drone strikes against armed groups in Niger. At summit on joint force of G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania) in Paris 13 Dec, Saudi Arabia pledged $100mn and United Arab Emirates $30mn toward force. Police prevented civil society-led protests against 2018 finance law 22 Dec, but several thousand protested in capital Niamey 31 Dec. Following reports of sub-Saharan migrants being sold as slaves in Libya, first 500 Nigerien migrants repatriated from Libya to Niger 8 Dec; govt said it would repatriate all Nigerien migrants in Libya.
Joint force of Sahel G5 countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania) conducted first operation in Burkina-Mali-Niger border area 27 Oct-11 Nov involving troops from three host countries. Govt 6 Nov said it would allow U.S. to use drones to conduct strikes on suspected militants. After protests against planned 2018 budget led to clashes between protestors and police 29 Oct, three leaders of civil society collective that organised protests faced sentences of five years in prison mid-Nov, charges dropped 24 Nov.
Gunmen allegedly from Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) led by Abu Walid Al Sahroaui ambushed mixed Niger-U.S. military patrol near Tongo Tongo village, in Tillabery region in west near Mali border 4 Oct, killing five Nigerien and four U.S. soldiers. Security forces arrested chief of Tongo Tongo for alleged involvement in ambush. Assailants attacked gendarmerie post at Ayorou, Tillabery region 21 Oct killing at least thirteen gendarmes. Chad completed withdrawal of its troops from Diffa region in south east which began late Sept, officially to reinforce presence in northern Chad; govt declared south east no-go zone for Westerners, fearing abductions. Following UN Security Council meeting on planned G5 Sahel joint force to counter Islamist militancy and trafficking 30 Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson pledged up to $60mn in support. French President Macron 9 Oct said France would in next two years offer resettlement to 10,000 refugees, of which 3,000 would be from Chad and Niger.
Alleged Boko Haram (BH) militants 6 Sept tried to abduct four villagers in Koutou, Diffa region in south east; three reportedly escaped, one killed. Alleged BH 7 Sept abducted child near Nguigmi, Diffa region. Govt 16 Sept extended by three months state of emergency in Diffa region and in Tillaberi and Tahoua regions on Mali border in west.
Army 18 Aug allegedly killed 39 Boko Haram (BH) militants near Barwa, Diffa region in south east. International Office for Migration 9 Aug said 1,000 West African migrants abandoned by smugglers in north rescued since April.
Jihadist activity continued in west along Mali border. Jihadist coalition Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) claimed 5 July ambush on military convoy that killed five soldiers in Midal valley, Tahoua region, supposedly under influence of other jihadist group Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS). Mali-based Tuareg and Doosaak groups reportedly killed seven Fulani herders at Anderaboukhane on Mali-Niger border 11 July. Boko Haram (BH) attacks rose again in Diffa region in south east: alleged BH militants 2 July killed nine civilians and abducted dozens in Ngalewa village, looting food and cattle. Soldiers 6 July killed fourteen unarmed civilians in restricted access area around Abadam village, mistaking them for BH militants. At summit of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) in Bamako 1-2 July, members each pledged €10mn to finance 5,000-strong joint military force to counter jihadism in region (see Mali). Authorities increasingly harassed journalists and civil society: journalist Ali Soumana imprisoned and charged 3 July with stealing official documents and “violating the secrecy of the investigation” into case involving govt and Lebanese company.
Military 3 June arrested six alleged members of Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) accused of involvement in 31 May attack at Abala in Tillabery region in west that killed six security personnel. Govt 16 June extended state of emergency for three months in Tillabery and Tahoua regions in west. Alleged Boko Haram fighters 6 June attacked Garin Dogo village in Diffa region in south east, no casualties reported. Two female suicide bombers 28 June attacked refugee camp in Kabelewa village near Diffa town, two bombers and two others killed. African Union 3 June pledged support to efforts of Sahel G5 (Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso) against jihadism and EU 5 June promised €50mn to support G5 joint military force; UN Security Council 21 June adopted resolution endorsing G5 force but did not authorise use of force.
Jihadist violence emanating from Mali continued in west and armed violence continued in Diffa region in south east. Unidentified assailants 11 May attacked police station in Ayerou, Tillaberi region near Mali border, stole weapons and five vehicles, no casualties reported. Govt 4 May agreed with other G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso) to create joint military force by end of 2017 to counter jihadists and organised crime and 9 May signed agreement with Chad and Mali to strengthen judicial cooperation in fight against terrorism and cross-border crime enabling three countries to arrest, prosecute and convict each other’s nationals. Ethnic Kanuri trader abducted mid-May near Diffa and mediator in charge of negotiating surrender of BH members killed mid-May in Diffa region. Security forces 10 May in Niamey dispersed civil society protest which had been banned on grounds of public order. Unidentified assailants 27 May attacked police station in Tillaberi region in south west near border with Burkina Faso, killing two police and one Ivorian civilian. Civil society activist Abdourahmane Insar, who called for protests against alleged govt corruption, arrested in Agadez in north for “incitement to violence” 13 May. Opposition politician Amadou Djibo arrested 15 May for comments at opposition meeting critical of govt. Civil society representative Ali Idrissa briefly detained 20 and 22 May for involvement in alleged coup plot.
After lull in Boko Haram (BH) attacks in Diffa region in SE since end-2016, BH 29 March ambushed Nigerien-Chadian military in Boulatoungour, three BH and one soldier killed; BH 9 April attacked army position in Gueskerou, govt said security forces killed at least 57 militants including “emir”. Ethnic tensions threatened to rise again in Agadez region in north: Ibrahim Ag Alambo, arms smuggler and relative of leader of former Tuareg rebel group Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ), 6 April announced creation of militia to protect Tuareg from bandits. In response, alleged Toubou representative said move would prompt creation of Toubou self-defence group. Dissident journalist Baba Alpha and civil society activist Maikoul Zodi, accused of fraud in separate cases, arrested 3 and 5 April respectively; Amnesty International said arrests “arbitrary”. Students 10 April protested in several cities against studying conditions; one killed in Niamey in clashes with security forces; students 17 April declared open-ended strike. After deal struck 21 April, classes resumed 26 April.
In response to rise in cross-border attacks from Mali by suspected jihadists in previous months, govt 3 March declared state of emergency in some departments in Tillabéri and Tahoua regions in west. Unidentified gunmen 6 March killed at least five gendarmes in Wanzarbe village, Tillabéri region. During visit of UNSC delegation to Niger, President Issoufou 4 March advocated SC resolution endorsing planned counter-terrorism joint task force of G5 Sahel countries. Boko Haram (BH) attacks in SE continued to fall. Trials of about 1,000 suspected BH fighters began 2 March. Diffa region governor 1 March convened meeting to address intercommunal tensions following clashes between farmers and herders late Feb. Opposition supporters 4 March protested in capital Niamey against alleged govt corruption, poor living conditions and foreign military bases in country, called for release of “political prisoners”, including people arrested in connection with Dec 2015 alleged military coup plot. Govt 24 March released several people suspected of involvement in 2015 coup plot. Parliament 17 March voted to establish parliamentary commission of inquiry into alleged involvement of Finance Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou in possible embezzlement of $320mn linked to sale of uranium in 2011; commission started hearings 27 March.
Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) regional force continued to prepare offensive against Boko Haram (BH) bases on Lake Chad islands in Niger and Nigeria. Security forces 3 Feb dismantled presumed BH cell in Baban Rafi, Maradi region in south centre. Heads of state of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad) in Bamako, Mali’s capital 6-7 Feb pledged to create joint task force to fight terrorism. Following call of civil society groups and opposition parties, thousands 4 Feb protested in Niamey against govt’s alleged poor governance, high cost of living and presence of Western military bases. Suspected jihadists 22 Feb ambushed military patrol 200km N of Niamey near border with Mali killing sixteen soldiers; France 25 Feb said it would send counter-terror contingent to support armed forces.