The Week in Conflict

This week, much media attention has been given to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, and rightly so as the USA has a major influence in global affairs. The incoming President has pursued a hard line on domestic and international affairs during his campaign and it remains to be seen if he can pursue his policies or will be tempered by the realities of presidential office and opposition from mainstream republicans within his own party.

Yesterday saw the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the President of The Gambia, an event that took place in neighbouring Senegal as the incumbent President of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, has refused to cede power after losing an election on the 1st December 2016. The crisis has reached a head as the regional organisation ECOWAS has authorised West African troops to enter The Gambia. These troops have halted their advance while the Presidents of Guinea and Mauritania engage in last minute talks to persuade President Jammeh to step down. The Gambian Army has stated that it will not oppose the invasion, which led to an exodus of tourists and has turned the capital into a ghost town. It is unlikely that there will be any significant resistance to the entry of ECOWAS troops due to their superiority in numbers and resources, although there is potential for a minor incident to act as a flashpoint. The Gambia crisis will provide lessons for international intervention to support the outcome of democratic elections. It is hoped that these will prove to be positive.

As Nigeria deploys jets over The Gambia it is dealing with the consequences of an airstrike by one of its aircraft on a refugee camp in Rann, located in north-eastern Nigeria. The bombing, which has killed upward of 70 people, including staff from aid agencies, has been attributed by the Nigerian military to the ‘fog of war’, has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch and aid agencies. It is the first time that a targeting error has been admitted in a region where the Nigerian military is battling the ISIS affiliated Boko Harem insurgency. While airpower can be a powerful resource for militaries battling insurgencies, it can also be a notoriously blunt instrument despite much vaunted targeting capabilities.

In Iraq, the painstaking operation by the Iraqi Army to retake Mosul from ISIS has borne fruit with the declaration that the Iraqi Army now holds all of the eastern part of the city. ISIS has resisted the advance since October of 2016, despite facing the Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Shia militias, with support from coalition airpower. That Mosul will be taken is not in doubt, the question is as to how long it will take and how much damage the city will suffer as a consequence. There is also the question of returning citizens to what had been an ethnically and religiously diverse city, which has spent two years under ISIS’s hard-line rule, one which recognised only the Sunni interpretation of Islam as legitimate. The battle across Iraq against ISIS has required the major groups of Sunni’s, Shia and Kurd’s to cooperate but Iraq’s future depends on further cooperation in the long term when ISIS has been forced from Iraq.

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

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