Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month August 2018
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month July 2018
In July, fighting rose between Israel and Hamas and could quickly escalate into a new Gaza war, while in Yemen, as violence intensified on several fronts, a UN plan offered hope that a battle for Hodeida city could still be averted. Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in Somalia, Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict spread to new areas, and tensions rose within Côte d’Ivoire’s ruling coalition. Violence marred elections in Pakistan and disrupted voting in Mali. Zimbabwe’s first general election since former President Mugabe’s ouster went largely peacefully; wide endorsement of the results could pave the way for the country’s recovery, but their rejection could spark turmoil. Violent protests erupted in southern Iraq over poor services and unemployment, and in Haiti over a proposed hike in fuel prices. Deadly clashes between protesters and pro-government forces in Nicaragua continued with hundreds now reported killed. On a brighter note, Ethiopia and Eritrea took further steps to cement peace, South Sudan’s warring leaders agreed to share power, and in the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Organic Law, a long-awaited step to implement peace in Mindanao, was finally signed into law.
Fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, rose to its highest level since the 2014 war, and could escalate into a new full-scale confrontation. To stop Palestinian protesters in Gaza sending incendiary kites across the border, Israel ramped up aerial strikes on Hamas targets and tightened its blockade. Retaliating with rocket fire, Hamas and Islamic Jihad sought to reestablish the precedent that Israeli bombings would not go unanswered. To avert another war, the international community should press Israel to lift the blockade and the Palestinian Authority to take over Gaza through intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
In Yemen, as fighting intensified on several fronts, Saudi-led coalition forces consolidated their positions just south of the port city of Hodeida. The UN envoy’s proposal to avert a battle for the city and restart talks, and the Huthis’ two-week ceasefire in the Red Sea still offer a glimmer of hope. But if the plan does not satisfy belligerents’ conditions, they could continue to pursue victory through violence.
Protests swept across southern Iraq, with demonstrators bemoaning poor services and unemployment and attacking government and party offices. Security forces responded harshly, in some places shooting at protesters, and killing around 50. To douse widespread anger, Crisis Group urged the new government, once formed, to strengthen the judiciary and independent oversight agencies in their fight against corruption – Iraq’s public enemy number one.
Zimbabwe’s general elections on 30 July – the first since Robert Mugabe was ousted in November – could lay the foundation for the country’s recovery, or lead to violence. Voting took place largely peacefully and three quarters of the electorate cast a ballot. A credible result accepted by all would give the government much-needed legitimacy. But, as we warned, if the losers reject the results, violence could break out, eroding prospects of economic and governance reform and international re-engagement.
In Mali, intercommunal violence and jihadist attacks, especially in the centre and north east, rose in the lead-up to hotly contested presidential elections on 29 July. The violence and a chaotic electoral process may have squandered whatever opportunity the vote presented to revive the peace process. In Cameroon, the Anglophone conflict spread to new areas, and trouble brewed within Côte d’Ivoire’s ruling coalition. The parties of President Ouattara and former President Bédié squared off over the merger of all coalition members into a single party ahead of presidential elections in 2020.
The Horn of Africa took strides toward greater stability, and felt painful setbacks. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab stepped up its offensive against military forces and civilians, resuming attacks in Mogadishu after a lull. In contrast, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea turned a page in history when they agreed to end the state of war that had existed between their nations since 1998. In South Sudan, the war’s protagonists signed security and power-sharing agreements giving rise to cautious optimism. Now they must translate these commitments into new realities on the ground, and put a stop to more than four years of fighting.
Pakistan’s general election on 25 July was marred by high levels of violence as well as allegations of irregularities and interference by federal and provincial caretaker governments, the judiciary and the military. Over 200 candidates and supporters were killed in attacks ahead of the election and on polling day, including the 13 July terror attack on a rally in Balochistan that killed at least 149 people.
In Nicaragua, 38 people were reported killed in clashes between protesters and troops on 8 July, the deadliest day since protests against President Ortega’s government began in April. With paramilitary and police forces attempting to subdue protest strongholds and restore government control, the reported death toll since April now exceeds 350. Four people were killed during violent protests in Haiti after the government announced a hike in fuel prices.
In the Philippines, the long-awaited Bangsamoro Organic Law was finally signed into law at the end of July, the most important component of the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aimed at ending 40 years of conflict in Mindanao. As we argue, implementing this deal is essential to efforts to curtail the influence and spread of jihadist groups in the country.
People’s Daily reported that authorities in Xinjiang had relocated 461,000 residents to work in other parts of region during first quarter of 2018, with plans to relocate 100,000 in southern Xinjiang by 2019. Scholar at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Global Times that relocation will help maintain regional security and alleviate poverty; some observers cite move as part of campaign to weaken Uighur culture.
Following May visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Japan, Chinese foreign ministry 5 July announced invitation to Japanese PM Abe to visit Beijing later in 2018, ahead of planned visit by Chinese President Xi to Tokyo in 2019 for G20 summit. Li 24 July called for healthy, stable ties between China and Japan in meeting with speaker of Japanese parliament in Beijing. Japan reported it scrambled fighter jets 27 July to intercept Chinese Y-9 electronic surveillance aircraft over Sea of Japan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang 5-7 July for follow-up discussions after 12 June U.S.-DPRK Singapore summit; described talks as “productive” and “good-faith negotiations”, however North Korea released statement denouncing “unilateral and gangster-like [U.S.] demand for denuclearisation”, saying U.S. stance runs “against spirit” of Singapore summit, while saying that leader Kim Jong-un nevertheless wants to build on “friendly relationship and trust” forged with President Trump in Singapore. U.S. intelligence official 31 July told Reuters about further evidence of increased North Korean ballistic missile production activity, citing images showing trucks activity at Sanumdong factory. U.S. and North Korean officials 16 July met to coordinate repatriation of 50-55 sets of remains of U.S. servicemen killed in Korean War; repatriations took place 27 July. North Korea and South Korea resumed ship-to-ship radio communication links 1 July, ten years after their unilateral suspension by Seoul, which said move represents bid to defuse military tensions and prevent violent confrontation, especially around contested islands in Yellow (West) Sea. Koreas 17 July fully restored military communications line in western part of peninsula, suspended since early 2016 closure of Kaesong Industrial Complex. South Korea 10 July announced suspension of large-scale annual civil defence drills and independent military exercises, saying it plans to develop new drills to prepare for armed attacks “from outside as well as terrorism”; also affirmed intention that U.S. troops should remain in South Korea. South Korean defence ministry 24 July announced plan to gradually reduce troop numbers along demilitarised zone. Month saw further inter-Korean good-will gestures of sports engagements. South Korean workers travelled to Kaesong, North Korea, mid-July to repair facilities to be used for inter-Korean joint liaison office, as agreed during April inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom. China and North Korea 11 July celebrated 57th anniversary of DPRK-China Treaty of Friendship, which compels the two countries to defend one another in event of attack. China and Russia 20 July reportedly blocked U.S. request made at UN Security Council to stop oil transfers to North Korea.
Two U.S. warships sailed through Taiwan Strait 7 July; China next day accused U.S. of playing the “Taiwan card” to harm Chinese national interest; U.S. Navy said warships’ route “perfectly permissible”. Chinese navy 18-23 July conducted live-fire drill in East China Sea; China’s Global Times reported operation was over area “roughly the size of Taiwan” and designed to simulate real combat against Taiwan and show preparedness for conflict. Taiwan foreign ministry 26 July denounced Beijing’s efforts to stop private companies referring to Taiwan as separate country as “attempts to destroy Taiwan’s sovereignty”. Beijing 31 July said it had called on U.S. not to allow President Tsai to transit through U.S. en route to Latin America in Aug. Taiwan 17 July brought into service a second squadron of U.S.-supplied Apache AH-64E attack helicopters. Chinese President Xi 13 July met Lien Chan, former chair of Kuomintang party, in Beijing and urged more work on peaceful development of relations across Taiwan Strait and efforts toward peaceful reunification.
Post-ceasefire resumption of violence continued; NATO 20 July reported Afghan national army (ANDSF) conducted more than 90 post-ceasefire operations, with 1,700 insurgents killed or injured; period also saw sharp uptick in civilian casualties caused by ANDSF and U.S. forces, with worst-hit provinces including Badghis (west), Farah (west), Faryab (north) and Ghazni (south). Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) suffered significant setbacks late June-early July from Taliban offensives in Laghman and Kunar provinces (east), and Jawzjan province (north), where local officials reported more than 250 killed on both sides during two weeks of fighting. Taliban reportedly captured territory from IS-KP in Darzab and Qush Tepa districts throughout July. U.S. military 7 July reported joint U.S.-ANDSF operations had retaken Deh Bala district, Nangarhar province, from IS-KP. IS-KP continued attacks, with dozens killed, mostly civilians, in several suicide bombings in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province (east), and at least ten killed in suicide attack on govt ministry in Kabul 16 July. During two-day international conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 10 July, nearly 200 religious scholars called for Taliban to end insurgency and accept govt’s peace offer, issuing statement labelling ongoing bloodshed “religiously illegitimate” and conferring religious legitimacy to govt; Taliban condemned declaration. U.S. Sec of State Pompeo 9 July paid unannounced visit to President Ghani in Kabul, reiterated support for peace process; New York Times 16 July cited “senior American and Afghan officials” as saying U.S. President Trump was now seeking direct talks with Taliban. International media late July reported that direct informal talks took place between Taliban negotiators and senior U.S. diplomats in Doha, Qatar; both sides described meetings as positive. Special forces 2 July arrested militia commander and close ally of VP Abdul Rashid Dostum, Nizamuddin Qaysari, in Faryab province (north), resulting in clash with his supporters and death of four of his guards; arrests prompted protests in several northern provinces, subsiding after Dostum returned from exile in Turkey 22 July. UN mission 15 July said more civilians killed – 1,692 – in first six months of 2018 than any comparable period over past decade.
Ruling Awami League (AL) continued anti-narcotics drive with over 202 killed since May, some allegedly in staged police encounters by end of July. Opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) 20 July held rally in Dhaka demanding immediate release of its jailed leader Khaleda Zia, which it says is a condition for its participation in Dec parliamentary elections, also threatening to hold protests elsewhere in country. Supreme Court 2 July upheld its decision to reject High Court’s granting of bail for Zia (in March) in murder case from Feb 2015. Visiting Bangladesh at start of July, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank President Jim Kim 1 July praised country for accepting Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in meeting with PM Hasina; 2 July visited refugees and humanitarian workers in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh and UN late June began formal registration of refugees aimed at facilitating reparation, stressing any returns would be safe and voluntary. Home Minister Asaduzzaman 11 July said registration process was completed and registration of children born in camps was ongoing; data to be ready by Nov and shared with Myanmar. UN investigators ending fact-finding mission in Cox’s Bazar camps 19 July noted that Rohingya refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh from Myanmar, many reporting violence and persecution.
In Jharkhand state, encounter between security forces and Maoist rebels 11 July left one officer dead. In Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoist rebels 15 July killed two security forces in Kanker district; eight suspected Maoist rebels, including four women, killed 19 July in large-scale police operation in nearby Bijapur district.