Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month August 2016
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month July 2016
The month saw protracted conflicts intensify, attempts to resolve them derail and political crises erupt or deepen. In Turkey, a failed coup attempt led to hundreds killed and prompted concern over the government’s commitment to the rule of law and divisions within the security bureaucracy. In neighbouring Syria, regime forces cut off the final supply line into opposition-held areas of Aleppo city, with scores killed in airstrikes and rocket attacks. Violent crises flared up in Armenia and India-administered Kashmir, and both Bangladesh and Afghanistan experienced major terrorist attacks. In Mali, efforts to implement the June 2015 peace deal faced a violent backlash, and in South Sudan clashes between government forces and former rebels left hundreds dead. A new split in the opposition there could make the conflict more difficult to end.
On 15 July, a segment of the Turkish army attempted to topple the elected government and President Erdoğan, failing in the face of resistance from police, part of the army and citizens. At least 240 people were reported killed during clashes, while over 10,000 people were arrested, over 18,000 detained and some 60,000 public officials dismissed in the wake of the coup attempt. The scale of the backlash has prompted concerns in the West over Turkey’s commitment to the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and more generally over divisions within the security bureaucracy and the state’s capacity to address security challenges including operations against the Kurdish insurgency in the south east.
In Syria, the Assad regime, assisted by re-intensified Russian airstrikes, severed the final supply line into areas of Aleppo city held by mostly non-jihadist opposition forces, amid renewed diplomatic manoeuvering between the U.S. and Russia. Scores were killed by fighting in and around Aleppo as airstrikes and rocket attacks hit civilian areas, where as many as 300,000 people are estimated to remain in encircled portions of the city with dwindling basic supplies. As the regime informed residents and rebels willing to surrender that they could leave through “humanitarian corridors”, the UN called for guarantees of protection and humanitarian access, and insisted no one can be forced to flee. Elsewhere, over 40 people were reported killed in an Islamic State (IS) bombing of Qamishli city near the Turkish border on 27 July, and activists reported that an U.S. airstrike on Menbij city killed at least 73 civilians on 19 July, making it allegedly the worst coalition attack on civilians.
In Bangladesh, a brutal attack on a café in an upscale neighbourhood of the capital Dhaka on 1 July left 22 people, mostly foreigners, dead. Although IS claimed responsibility, officials pointed to the likely involvement of local affiliates of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), an ally of the group behind recent killings of secular and atheist bloggers and publishers. In a commentary published after the attack, Crisis Group noted that the government’s primary challenge is to tackle the growing local constituencies of both IS and AQIS, and adopt a counter-terrorism approach based on accountable and impartial law enforcement. IS also claimed responsibility for a joint suicide attack on ethnic Hazara protesters in the Afghan capital on 23 July which killed at least 80 people and injured over 250.
Also in South Asia, the killing by Indian security forces of Burhan Wani, operations chief of Kashmir’s largest militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, on 8 July, sparked a fresh crisis in India-administered Kashmir. As major protests broke out across Jammu and Kashmir in response to the killing, 49 people were reported killed and over 5,000 injured in clashes with security forces. Pakistan condemned the killing of Wani and violence against protesters, while India’s home minister blamed Islamabad for orchestrating the violence.
Meanwhile, Armenia was rocked by an armed opposition group’s seizure of a police headquarters in the capital Yerevan on 17 July, taking several hostages and killing two police before surrendering at the end of the month. The gunmen were demanding President Sargsyan’s resignation over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan, amid speculation over his government’s possible concessions to Baku. Thousands of people joined daily protests in support of the gunmen, with dozens injured in clashes with police, and scores detained.
In Mali, the peace process in the north faced serious setbacks as fighting flared up between an ethnic Tuareg armed group allied with the government and a coalition of Tuareg fighters who favour northern secession, killing at least twenty. Meanwhile in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, four days of clashes between government forces and SPLA-IO former rebels left hundreds of fighters dead and dealt the peace process a major blow. The replacement of Riek Machar, long-time SPLA-IO leader, as first vice president split the former rebels, and more fighting in several areas in late July could signal further splits and an escalation in the coming weeks. To pull South Sudan back from the brink, Crisis Group urged regional leaders, especially Uganda and Sudan, backed by the African Union, China and the U.S., to clarify the consequences for the warring factions if they do not halt the violence.
Constitutional Court 18 July ruled on referendum on govt-FARC peace accords, accepting govt’s proposal of minimum number of votes required to validate result of the plebiscite at 13% of electorate. Communiqué from FARC’s First front, located in SE and reported by state authorities to be heavily engaged in drug-trafficking, announced it would not take part in peace process. FARC leadership 8 July stated that group would be excluded from FARC since it did not follow orders to take part in peace process; many FARC fronts and units subsequently affirmed commitment to peace process. ELN guerrilla group late June publicly stated it “respects” agreements signed by govt and FARC; three ELN leaders called for peace with govt, blamed govt for stalled negotiations. “Gulf Cartel”, regarded as Colombia’s most important criminal organisation, stated it would “respect” FARC cantonment areas, also announced it would be “neutral but not indifferent observer” of process. Govt and FARC negotiators on peace talks’ gender commission 24 July agreed to improve land access for women and ensure sexual violence will be excluded from amnesty, as well as respect gender focus in the agreements already reached in Havana. Military and FARC guerrillas clashed in Meta province early July as a result of communications errors, some injuries reported. UN Office on Drugs and Crime report on coca cultivation in 2015 revealed 39% increase in total cultivated area compared to 2014, rising to 96,000 hectares, prompting some observers to speculate that govt had relaxed its anti-narcotics efforts in order to secure a final peace deal with FARC.
International Quartet 1 July issued report identifying three main sets of obstacles to resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict: violence and incitement; settlement expansion, land designations and denial of Palestinian statehood; and Gaza Strip’s military build-up, dire humanitarian situation and Palestinian divided governance. Palestinian Authority (PA) criticised report, continued to voice support for France’s peace initiative. Egypt continued to advance its initiative, with its FM meeting with President Abbas late June and PM Netanyahu 10 July – first Egyptian ministerial visit to Israel since 2007. Cairo said it seeks to follow up on President Sisi’s call in May for Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct negotiations. Abbas repeated his demands for any such talks: Israel’s commitment to a settlement freeze, release of fourth tranche of prisoners, and agreement to hold discussions on basis of pre-1967 borders. Hamas declared it would participate in PA municipal elections 8 Oct and permit them to take place in Gaza. Several fatal shootings in West Bank during month, including killing of two members of Palestinian security forces, fuelled discussion about deteriorating security there. Rabbi from Otniel settlement shot dead 1 July; Israeli forces 27 July killed suspect in attack. Palestinian boy killed in clash with troops in East Jerusalem 19 July. Attorney general 10 July ordered new inquiry into matters relating to Netanyahu, with media reporting speculation over suspicions of PM’s possible involvement in criminal offences including money laundering.
Interior ministry sources reported that the eight perpetrators of suicide bombing in Al-Qaa 27 June were Syrian nationals, who all came from inside Syria, mainly from Raqqa, blamed on Islamic State (IS). Bombings exacerbated already strained relations between Lebanese and over 1mn Syrian refugees country is currently hosting. Governor of Baalbek al-Hermel reportedly imposed curfew on Syrians living in Al-Qaa and surrounding villages starting late June, while Lebanese forces repeatedly cracked down on refugee camps since attack arresting hundreds, most on charges of staying illegally; media also reported attacks against Syrian refugees.
Regime air and artillery fire, assisted by re-intensified Russian airstrikes, severed final supply line into areas of Aleppo city held by mostly non-jihadi opposition mid-month, amid renewed diplomatic manoeuvering between U.S. and Russia. Scores killed by fighting in and around Aleppo during month as airstrikes and rocket attacks hit civilian areas; four hospitals hit by airstrikes 24 July. As many as 300,000 civilians estimated to remain in encircled portion of city, as UN warned of critical humanitarian conditions and dwindling basic supplies, called for regular ceasefires around city. Regime 28 July said army had cut off all supply routes, in Russian-supported initiative informed residents and rebels willing to surrender that they could leave through “humanitarian corridors”; UN called for guarantees, humanitarian access, ICRC said departures must not be forced. Elsewhere, over 40 people reported killed in Islamic State (IS) bombing of Qamishli city near Turkish border 27 July. Kurdish YPG-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) campaign to capture Menbij city from IS continued, meeting sustained IS resistance; activists reported U.S. airstrike on city killed at least 73 civilians 19 July, reportedly worst coalition attack on civilians. U.S. 28 July opened formal investigation; another coalition airstrike 28 July reportedly killed over a dozen civilians. Month also saw extensive bilateral talks between Russia and U.S., which proposed military coordination against Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) jihadi group in exchange for Russia’s help in re-imposing cessation of hostilities and halting regime aerial attacks. U.S. Sec State Kerry 26 July said talks had made progress, hopes to announce details of planned military cooperation and intelligence sharing early Aug. UN envoy De Mistura late July said third round of UN-mediated intra-Syrian peace talks planned for late Aug; opposition representative said no progress on ground that would indicate a return to talks, while regime said ready for new round of talks “without preconditions”. JN 28 July announced split from al-Qaeda, changing name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that regime has retained chemical warfare agents, violating 2013 deal supposedly eliminating them. Amnesty International report published early July documented “serious abuses” of civilians by armed Syrian opposition groups since 2011.
High Civil Court 17 July ordered dissolution of main Shiite opposition al-Wefaq group and seizure of its funds, after suspending its activities in June; U.S., UK and UN condemned move. Prosecutor 17 July charged Nazeeha Saeed, correspondent for French media, for working without license. Trial of prominent Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim opened 27 July on charges of “illegal fund collections, money laundering and helping terrorism”.
Govt troops continued to clash with Kurdish forces in NW near Iraqi border. Two Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) fighters died 8 July in skirmishes in Sawlawa, Iranian Kurdistan. Four snipers 11 July shot at MP Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh’s car in NW Kermansha province, killing two other passengers; govt blamed Kurdish armed group Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). Relations with Saudi Arabia strained when Saudi prince and former spy chief Turki al-Faisal 9 July attended meeting in Paris of Iranian govt-designated terrorist group Mujahideen-e-Khalq Organisation (MEK) and called for regime change in Iran. U.S. House of Representatives 8 July passed legislation blocking Boeing’s planned sale of aircraft to Iran; White House 12 July promised to veto bill.
Islamic State (IS) increased suicide bombings as security forces pushed closer to IS-held Mosul. Suicide bombing 3 July in Karrada district, central Baghdad killed over 290 people, IS claimed responsibility. Alleged IS suicide bombers and gunmen 8 July attacked Shia shrine in Balad, 90km N of Baghdad, killing over 80. Suicide bombing 24 July at checkpoint in Baghdad claimed by IS killed at least twenty. Suicide bombing 25 July at Khalis, 80km NE of Baghdad, killed at least seventeen. Security forces mid-July continued to push back IS around Mosul in NE, including 17 July taking control of Qarraya air base S of Mosul. IS 31 July attacked two energy facilities NW of Kirkuk, killing at least five. PM Abadi shuffled govt posts in particular in security sector: Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban, affiliated with Badr Corps Shia militia, resigned 5 July; Abadi dismissed Abdul Amir al-Shammari, former head of Baghdad Operation Command and appointed new inspectors general in four ministries including defence.
Suicide bombers hit three cities 4 July: bomber detonated explosives outside U.S. consulate in Jeddah in W killing only himself; bombing near Prophet’s Mosque in Medina in W killed four security personnel; suicide bombers blew themselves up outside mosque in Qatif in E, killing only themselves. Cross-border clashes between security forces and Yemen-based Huthi-Saleh forces escalated; five Saudi border guards killed in Najran 25 July, seven killed 30 July (see Yemen).