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25 Nov 22. Japan’s ruling party mulls military export rules change amid push for joint UK fighter project. Japan’s ruling party is discussing whether to ease military equipment export rules, in part because without a change Britain would not be able to sell any jet fighters it builds with Japan, former defence minister Itsunori Onodera said.
Japan and Britain hope to agree by the end of the year to merge their next-generation Tempest and F-X fighter programmes, sources said in July. Those talks, aimed at a joint project to field a plane in the mid-2030s, remain on track, according to four other people familiar with the discussions.
“Japan could not oppose exports and neither could we insist that Japanese components be removed, so we are discussing what we can do about that,” said Onodera, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission on National Security.
Japan ended a ban on military exports in 2014 in a bid to promote overseas sales. It hoped the change would allow its armed forces to cut procurement costs and give domestic arms makers such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T) access to foreign markets that would boost profits and bolster the nation’s defence industry.
An export boom, however, failed to materialize because Japan only allowed sales of non-lethal gear such as surveillance and rescue equipment.
“If we are going to sell beyond the countries we jointly develop with, we will need to settle the discussion at home,” Onodera said.
The influential lawmaker spoke as Japan prepares to increase defence spending and revamp its national security strategy to counter what it sees as a growing threat posed by neighbours, including China, Russia and North Korea.
As part of its biggest military expansion since World War Two, Japan is expected to procure fresh munitions, including longer-range missiles, spend on cyber defences, and create a combined air, sea and land command headquarters that will work more closely with U.S. forces in Japan.
LDP lawmakers, Onodera said, are also discussing a joint U.S-Japan command structure that could be formed for national emergencies.
“In order to defend Japan, we would be working with the United States to deploy units, so it’s only natural that we would want to discuss having a combined command,” he said. (Source: Reuters)
24 Nov 22. DRC: Ceasefire agreement likely to undermine M23 rebel offensive. On 23 November, the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, and former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta declared a ceasefire in the DRC, to end the M23 rebel group insurgency. The statement also highlighted that the M23 must withdraw from occupied territories, threatening intervention by regional forces. This comes after Burundi, Kenya and Uganda approved the deployment of forces to the East African Community’s (EAC’s) regional force. The statement also includes an agreement to cease all politico-military support for M23 rebels, a clear reference to UN findings that Rwandan troops were fighting alongside M23 rebels. While talks did not directly include the M23, Rwanda’s participation and agreement will likely result in a reduction in support for the M23. Combined with mounting military opposition, the move will either force M23 compliance or represent an insurmountable challenge, significantly reducing threats to Goma, the regional capital in the DRC’s North Kivu. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Nov 22. Pakistan: Interior Ministry warns against possible attacks during long march; high risk to bystanders. On 23 November, the Ministry of Interior sent a risk assessment to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that highlighted a latent threat of attacks on the long march in Rawalpindi on 26 November, asking them to reconsider the protest. It cautioned against sole perpetrator attacks from members of the extreme right-wing party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), as well as IED attacks from groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K). They also named Al Qaeda, though the group has remained largely dormant in recent years in Pakistan. PTI leader Imran Khan had initially cracked down on the TLP while he was prime minister and videos of TLP leaders were allegedly found on the phone of the shooter who shot Khan during his Wazirabad rally. As for TTP and ISIS-K, the march that will see the accumulation of large crowds is a potential target. Hence, there is a threat of a possible attack, elevating security risk levels for bystanders. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Nov 22. Malaysia: King appoints Anwar to head unity government, however, future political consensus will likely be difficult. On 24 November, Pakatan Harapan (PH) Chairman Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as prime minister after being appointed earlier in the day by King Abdullah to lead a unity government. The king made the decision due to the main political blocs’ failure to secure enough coalition partners to form a government following the recent general election. Anwar has long been involved in high-level politics, mainly as part of the opposition. However, while many are relieved that the deadlock following the general elections has been eased, it will be challenging for Anwar to pass legislation amid a divided parliament. To highlight the difficulties, Perikatan Nasional (PN) Chairman Muhyiddin Yassin has already challenged Anwar to prove he has the support of the majority of MPs in parliament. Anwar will have to strike a balance to create an inclusive cabinet and secure the support of parliament, which may compromise his promise to tackle high-level corruption.
24 Nov 22. Taiwan: Beijing’s reduced interference ahead of local elections underlines focus on cross-Strait tensions. Speaking to reporters on 23 November, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu described that Chinese interference ahead of the island’s upcoming local elections had been ‘not as prevailing’ as previous ballots. Taiwanese voters will elect city mayors, county magistrates, local councillors and borough chiefs on 26 November. Although local elections tend to focus more on domestic issues such as the economy, environment and transport, Beijing’s growing intimidation and coercion against Taipei has placed the strained cross-Strait relations under the spotlight. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has run a campaign on standing up to China and defending Taiwan’s democracy. Wu cited China’s domestic problems with the economy and Covid-19 restrictions as a reason for its reduced meddling. Beijing is also likely aware of rising negative sentiment among the Taiwanese electorate, and that attempts to sway the election results through military intimidation and misinformation may achieve the opposite effects. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Nov 22. Russia: State Duma legislates to further limit LGBTQI+ rights. On 24 November, Russia’s State Duma approved new legislation that will introduce a complete ban on perceived LGBTQI+ ‘propaganda, paedophilia and gender reassignment’. Deputies in the State Duma unanimously adopted the bill in its third reading, which is aimed at banning the distribution of materials that the government perceives to be promoting ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ online and in literature. For any ‘propaganda’ on the internet or in mainstream media, individuals will be fined up to RUB 800,000 if they are officials and RUB 5 m if they are a legal entity. Any foreign individuals seen to be violating this law will be fined up to RUB 400,000 and likely face expulsion following arrest which may include a 15-day detention. LGBTQI+ rights in Russia are already limited and this legislation reflects the trend of deteriorating conditions for LGBTQI+ individuals across Russia. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Nov 22. Russia-EU: Resolution declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism will increase potential for Russian retaliation. On 23 November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Russia’s permanent mission to the EU has released a statement calling the resolution ‘absurd’ and accusing the EU of attempting to intensify the confrontation with Russia. The US has refused to place Russia on its terrorism list, despite resolutions in both chambers of Congress urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to do so. Resolutions of the European Parliament are advisory in nature, given that only member states themselves can formally recognise Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. However, the vote will increase the threat of some form of indirect Russian retaliation, including cyber attacks (as has seemingly already happened against the European Parliament website) and grey zone sabotage. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Nov 22. Venezuela: Government and opposition expected to resume talks in Mexico; risk of political instability likely to remain stable. Venezuela’s government and its opposition are preparing to resume political talks between 25 and 26 November, with the aim of easing US oil sanctions and securing guarantees for upcoming elections. President Maduro had previously said that to return to negotiations with the opposition, all US sanctions must be lifted. The opposition, in turn, had demanded guarantees for presidential elections. The move comes after reports that the US is preparing to extend a sanctions waiver for Chevron Corp’s oil operations in Venezuela to boost oil production and help mitigate the global supply crunch following Russian sanctions associated with the war in Ukraine. The likelihood of tangible concessions to the opposition remains low. This will likely sustain the current risk level for political instability in the country. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Nov 22. Israel- Palestine: Explosions.
On the morning of 23 November 2022, two explosions took place at two separate bus stops in Jerusalem. The first explosion took place at approximately 0700 hrs (local time) in Givat Shaul at the western entrance of the city. The second took place at approximately 0730 hrs at Ramot Junction, 2.6 miles (4.6km) north of Givat Shaul. At the time of writing, one person was killed and at least 22 others were injured; a heightened security posture is currently in place across the city.
- Both explosions involved devices concealed in bags. It is likely they were detonated remotely. The bags were packed with nails to cause maximum damage.
- No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks at the time of writing. However, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) both praised the bombings. The incidents follow months of heightened tensions which have resulted in several stabbing attacks in proximity to checkpoints around Jerusalem and violent confrontations near and in the Shu’fat refugee camp.
- Overall, the security environment across Israel and the Palestinian Territories has remained highly volatile since a spate of attacks between March and April. These resulted in a significant uptick in Israeli security operations across the West Bank, further fuelling ethno-religious tensions in flashpoint areas, such as Jenin and Nablus in the north of the West Bank. The latter was placed under a weeks-long siege by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), significantly affecting the socio-economic health outlook of one of the main commercial centres in the West Bank.
In the immediate term, the security services’ response to the attacks will prompt increased searches, more checkpoints and road diversions. This will elevate bystander risks and travel disruption for business staff. People are advised to exercise caution and avoid using public transport, if possible.
Praise for the attacks from Palestinian groups suggests further similar attacks are likely. The emergence of an extreme right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming weeks will increase tensions in the Palestinian Territories and mixed Israeli urban centres where ethnic-religious tensions are significantly high. The security situation in these areas is subsequently likely to deteriorate, especially amid a stalled political resolution to the conflict and disenfranchisement among Palestinians with regard to peace talks. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Nov 22. Mali: Ban of French-backed NGOs likely to worsen the humanitarian crisis, and increase compliance challenges. On 22 November, the Malian junta announced the prohibition of NGOs supported or financed by France, including in the humanitarian field, with immediate effect. Malian authorities have cited France’s suspension of its professional development assistance to Mali last week as the reason for the ban, despite France stipulating that it would maintain humanitarian assistance. The prohibition will significantly increase compliance challenges for NGOs and will force organisations to take a funding cut if they wish to retain local operations. In the longer term, the move raises the possibility that Malian authorities will prohibit NGOs backed by other governments in response to foreign policy decisions, threatening those tied with the UK and Germany which are withdrawing from the UN mission to Mali. The withdrawal of French-backed NGOs is likely to worsen the humanitarian situation, with 35 percent of the population already in need of assistance. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Nov 22. Iran Outsourcing Kamikaze Drone Production to Venezuela.
Tehran, Caracas, and Moscow have been running a secretive air bridge just as Iran appears to be surging its transfer of attack drones to Russia, raising questions about whether these activities are linked.
As the United States considers whether to ease sanctions on Venezuela in order to boost global oil supplies, officials should take a closer look at potentially related events across the Atlantic in Ukraine, where Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones are regularly buzzing over cities and detonating their high-explosive payloads on civilian infrastructure. Venezuela has been under U.S. sanctions for years, in part due to its close ties with the Iranian regime.
Apparently undeterred, President Nicolas Maduro led a high-ranking delegation to Tehran this summer, resulting in a long-term cooperation agreement that included the resumption of weekly airline flights between the two capitals in July (the route had been suspended since 2015, presumably due to foreign pressure). Although the stated reason for this initiative was to promote tourism, significant evidence suggests that the flights could also be used to transport drone materiel and other military hardware.
Conviasa’s Deep Military Involvement with Iran
Venezuela’s state-owned flag carrier Conviasa Airlines is heavily involved in Iran’s global illicit arms network, operating a joint venture with Mahan Air, the Iranian carrier that doubles as a logistical arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Among other activities, Mahan has a history of using civilian passenger flights to transport weapons and ammunition to allies such as the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and many of its flight crews are ex-IRGC pilots. The company has been under U.S. sanctions since October 2011 for secretly ferrying operatives, weapons, and funds via such flights on behalf of the IRGC’s Qods Force.
In February 2020, Conviasa and its forty-plane fleet—much of it supplied and maintained by Mahan—were blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department for supporting the Maduro regime’s destabilizing activities. Yet the airline’s suspected involvement in Iranian military activity stretches much further back. As early as 2008, the U.S. Congress and State Department expressed concerns that Tehran was using Conviasa’s weekly Caracas-Damascus-Tehran flights to transport missile components to Syria. For example, a La Stampa article published on December 21, 2008, cited Western intelligence assessments that these flights were filled with visa-exempt military personnel and sensitive military materiel.
More recently, Mahan helped Conviasa form a cargo subsidiary in November 2021. Named Emtrasur, it began operations in January 2022 with a single leased Mahan Air Boeing 747-300B3(M) (current registration number YV3531, formerly EP-MND) flying out of El Libertador Air Base. The company has functioned as the strategic airlift arm of Venezuela’s air force, with regular flights to Tehran, Moscow, and Belgrade.
It made headlines this June when its only plane was detained in Buenos Aires while reportedly hauling car parts. That flight’s unusually large cockpit crew of nineteen Iranian and Venezuelan nationals included Gholamreza Ghasemi Abbasi, a retired IRGC Aerospace Force general and the current managing director of Qeshm Fars Air, another airline that operates on behalf of the IRGC. Abbasi is known as the mastermind of Iran’s efforts to arm its proxies using civilian airliners. The crew members detained in the June incident were recently released, with Emtrasur claiming that the Iranian contingent had been training the Venezuelans. Yet Washington has asked Caracas to extradite the plane for further examination.
El Libertador also houses an aviation services factory belong to EANSA, a joint venture between Conviasa and the state-owned Compania Anonima Venezolana de Industrias Militares (CAVIM). EANSA maintains drones operated by the Venezuelan armed forces, including the Iranian Mohajer-2 (known locally as Arpia or ANSU-100) and the recently unveiled ANSU-200 flying-wing design, which is very similar to the IRGC’s Shahed-171 and is reportedly under development in Venezuela using experts trained in Iran. Near El Libertador is a CAVIM arms factory that oversees the country’s drone program.
Suspicious Russian Routes
On October 2, after months of suspension due to international sanctions, Moscow resumed seasonal charter flights to the popular Venezuelan tourist destination of Margarita Island, relying mainly on Conviasa’s jets given the continued European restrictions on Russian airlines. Many are concerned that these flights might also be used as cover for military activities—especially now that Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) has been added as an unscheduled stopover even on supposedly “direct” routes. Indeed, given the increasing pace of Conviasa flights between Caracas, Tehran, and Moscow, the airline may be involved in shipping Iranian arms and equipment to Russia (in theory, some of this equipment may be assembled in Venezuela as well).
According to confidential eyewitnesses, when some Conviasa flights carrying passengers arrive at IKA, they do not use the normal passenger ramp on the west side of the airport. Instead, they stop at the cargo ramp on the east side, where they are met by vehicles that load and offload pallets and containers under armed IRGC protection.
The uptick in these suspicious flights has coincided with Russia’s increasing use of Iranian kamikaze drones in Ukraine, suggesting a potential connection. In all likelihood, Iran’s drone production capacity cannot meet Moscow’s growing demand, perhaps spurring Tehran to establish a secret production line in Venezuela for the Shahed-136 or its airframe. Alternatively, such arrangements could give Tehran plausible deniability for its illegal drone deliveries.
Whatever the case, Conviasa took delivery of two Airbus A340-600 super long-haul jets from Mahan earlier this year to serve its overseas routes (registration numbers YV3533, formerly EP-MMF, and YV3535, formerly EP-MMI). The A340-600 has a range of 14,500 kilometers and can fly directly from Caracas to Moscow (9,900 kilometers) or Tehran (just under 12,000 kilometers). The jet’s normal cargo capacity is twelve tons—in addition to 308 passengers, it can hold up to forty-three standard LD3 containers and fourteen pallets. With the seats removed, it can carry forty extra tons of freight in the passenger cabin. Either way, it has ample room for transporting drone parts, other weapons, and ammunition boxes.
For their return leg from Moscow, these flights apparently fill their passenger seats with Russian tourists bound for Margarita Island, generating substantial commercial revenue in the process. And by using Conviasa, tour operators can circumvent international sanctions against Russian aviation, enabling the flights to pass through European airspace—and make unscheduled stopovers in Iran.
For example, according to tracking websites such as Flightradar24, YV3535 took off from Caracas for its Moscow direct route on September 30, but then diverted to Tehran while switching off its ADS-B tracking system. Conviasa planes have also made diversions to Tehran after taking off from Moscow, such as YV3533 on September 18 and YV3535 on October 17, 28, and 30. This practice enables the flights to avoid appearing on IKA’s scheduled arrivals list.
Notably, after landing in Tehran on September 30, YV3535 loaded up some cargo but did not take on any new passengers. Two hours later, it took off again for Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport. Other flights on this diversionary route have followed a similar schedule. According to aviation experts familiar with cargo handling at IKA, two hours is ample time to fill up this aircraft’s hold with containers or pallets. In this scenario, drone airframe components could be arriving from Venezuela, while engines and associated parts are then loaded up in Tehran.
Iran-Venezuela Drone Links
Since mid-September, Russia has been escalating its use of Iranian-made Shahed-131 and -136 kamikaze drones against Ukraine, adding Kyiv and the country’s power plants and radar stations to the target list. The Mohajer-6 surveillance and attack drone has been used there as well (e.g., on September 23, Ukrainian forces fished an intact one out of the Black Sea near Odessa). On October 11, President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Tehran of selling Moscow no less than 2,400 drones. Whether or not that figure is accurate, the presence of slow but deadly Shahed drones has become a major concern for Ukraine.
Yet Tehran continues to deflect responsibility for Russia’s widespread use of these kamikaze drones, flatly denying any deliveries at first, and more recently admitting some of the transfers but insisting that they took place well before the Ukraine invasion. Unsurprisingly, even this qualified admission does not add up—according to Ukrainian sources, the Mohajer-6 recovered near Odessa had been assembled in February, the same month the war began. Whatever equivocations Iranian officials may offer going forward, their overriding intent is clear: to maintain the illusion of “neutrality” in the conflict and avoid incurring further sanctions pressure. Not coincidentally, this goal would be ably abetted if Venezuela were acting as a go-between.
Tellingly, Tehran and Caracas were cooperating in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles for years before the current crisis. In the early 2000s, President Hugo Chavez counted on Iran’s military assistance to counter what he described as the “Colombian bourgeoisie and their American allies.” In 2012, he confirmed reports that an Iranian drone production line had already been established in his country.
A year later, the government unveiled a number of unarmed Mohajer-2 reconnaissance drones, each produced by CAVIM. More recently, they were armed with four small bombs hung under their wings. U.S. Southern Command watched all of these developments closely and with some concern.
In November 2020—one month after Washington announced new sanctions against Venezuela for buying Mohajer drones and other Iranian arms—President Maduro spoke of plans to expand CAVIM’s domestic drone production efforts, ostensibly with Iran’s help.
In January 2021, the U.S. State Department took major new steps to “contain Iran’s malign activities” by sanctioning almost the entirety of the regime’s military industrial sector, citing its track record of supplying combat drones and other weapons to proxies in the Middle East and elsewhere. The same designation cited Maduro’s government for participating in such activities. In February 2013 and again in August 2016, the department sanctioned CAVIM under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).
In an effort to curb the spread of Iranian arms to Ukrainian battlefields and cities, the United States has levied additional sanctions on multiple sectors in the Islamic Republic:
- Drone-related industries
- Mahan Air, Pouya Air, Qeshm Fars Air, and Iran Air Cargo, along with their facilitators in neighboring countries such as the United Arab Emirates
- Numerous individual cargo aircraft serving Russia
Washington has also warned that any provision of spare parts or refueling, maintenance, and repair services to these entities would violate U.S. export controls and subject the parties to enforcement actions. Yet Tehran seems undeterred by these restrictions, so more strenuous measures may be needed to monitor and effectively curtail the Iranian networks that enable weapons proliferation to Russia—particularly given the likelihood that outside actors such as Venezuela may be involved.
To begin with, the United States should ask European governments to impose similar sanctions on the Iranian airlines mentioned above—and on Conviasa if its involvement in transferring drones and other arms to Russia is proven. In addition, officials should persuade Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to close their airspace to direct flights from Tehran to Moscow across the Caspian Sea, thereby rendering that span of the Venezuela-Iran-Russia air bridge inoperative. To be sure, the parties may find alternative sea and land routes that cannot be so easily shut down. Yet such routes can be more readily monitored, and using them would incur more costs on the states involved. (Source: UAS VISION/Washington Institute)
22 Nov 22. A Yemeni-led truce continues to represent the best opportunity for progress. Statement by Ambassador James Kariuki at the Security Council briefing on Yemen.
Thank you President. And let me thank Special Envoy Grundberg and Ms Ghelani for their briefing today.
We are encouraged that most truce measures continue to hold since the lack of extension in October, and we call for an end to the disturbing pattern of terrorist attacks on international shipping from the Houthis.
The targeting of ships in the Southern ports of Al-Dabba and Qena poses a serious threat to peace and risks depriving ms of Yemenis from access to basic goods.
We call on the Houthis to take the peaceful route, by pursuing a negotiated, Yemeni-led political settlement under UN auspices.
The humanitarian crisis continues to suffer from interwoven challenges. The Independent Interagency Humanitarian Evaluation found that, despite its growing scale, much of the aid quality was “unacceptably low”.
The relative peace of the last eight months has not alleviated the impact of the preceding years of violent war. 17 m Yemenis remain exposed to an acute food insecurity crisis with many more projected to be affected in coming years.
This humanitarian crisis underlines the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, recently renewed until March. It has facilitated the import of over 60,000 metric tonnes of wheat into Yemen this month and will continue to be an important lifeline for Yemenis as we’ve heard again today from Ms Ghelani.
Internal displacement remains prevalent across Yemen. For those who do choose to return home, the risks of explosive remnants of war is real. The UK is supportive of ongoing demining initiatives, and urges the international community to unite behind this issue.
As we approach the start of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the UK reiterates its commitment to working towards a future where all women and girls live free from the fear of violence. We call for an end to the Houthi-imposed Mahram restrictions that are directly curbing the freedoms of Yemeni women.
The only permanent resolution to all these issues is long-term peace. And as I said, this will require a negotiated, Yemeni-led political settlement under UN auspices.
The truce continues to represent the best opportunity for progress and for the sake of the Yemeni people, this opportunity must not be squandered. Thank you. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
22 Nov 22. Mali: Jihadist Expansion.
On 21 November, members of the Institute for Islamic-Christian Education confirmed that one of their teachers, Father Hans-Joachim Lohre, a German priest based in Mali for around 30 years, was kidnapped by suspected Islamic extremists in Bamako on 20 November.
- Whilst kidnapping is common in other regions of the country, the recent incident represents JNIM’s first kidnapping of a foreign national in Bamako since the conflict began in 2012. Jihadist groups, primarily those associated with the al-Qaeda-aligned Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), have previously been concentrated in northern and central Mali, particularly around the Mopti region. However, this year jihadists have increased expanded into southern Mali.
- In May, jihadists kidnapped an Italian missionary couple around 6 miles (10 kilometres) from Koutiala in the southern region of Sikasso. The US Department of State also ordered the departure of non-emergency US government employees and family members from Mali following an escalation in attacks around Bamako in July.
- Mali’s capacity to contain this expansion has been significantly undercut due to deteriorating relations with international security partners, particularly those contributing to the UN mission to Mali (MINUSMA). Last week both Britain and Cote d’Ivoire announced the withdrawal of their troops from MINUSMA, and Germany is actively considering withdrawing its forces also. This will exacerbate the significant challenges created by France’s withdrawal, with Russian private military contractors, Wagner largely unable to replace these losses in capability.
Malian authorities will likely not be able to reverse the southern expansion of jihadists over the coming months. The expansion of jihadist operations will sustain the increased threat of kidnap to foreign nationals within Bamako, particularly those residing or operating within facilities deemed to be soft targets or easily accessible to the public. Additionally, as demonstrated by Father Hans-Joachim Lohre, those residing within Bamako who are known locally and may be subject to extended reconnaissance are most at risk. As such, the threat is reduced to foreign nationals who are only briefly visiting the country, and those residing within international hotel chains.
As demonstrated in other regions across the country, staff most at risk of targeting for kidnap by jihadists are those whose capture is most consistent with jihadist ideology, particularly threatening representatives of non-Islamic religious organisations and NGOs. However, more financially motivated targeting implicating business personnel cannot be ruled out. The ideological nature of this kidnapping also underlines increased threats of physical attack, particularly including improvised explosive devices (IEDs), on sites affiliated with non-Islamic religions, including areas surrounding churches and bars, as well as surrounding government buildings within Bamako. (Source: Sibylline)
22 Nov 22. Competition Remains Defining Feature of U.S.-China Relations, but Communications Still Important.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III discussed matters of mutual concern with Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe in Siem Reap, Cambodia, today.
The two defense leaders are attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers’ meeting. The secretary last met China’s defense leader at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore in June.
Last week, President Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia. The two leaders agreed it’s important that their countries work together to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.
“Secretary Austin has spoken frequently about importance of open lines of communication between major powers including the United States in the PRC, and today he was following up on that, that discussion,” said a senior defense official at the conclusion of the meeting.
Still, competition remains the defining feature of the relationship between the two nations, the official said, and Austin expressed some concerns about China’s military behavior. He also pressed the Chinese to resume military dialogues and mechanisms to help manage that competition responsibly.
Re-starting already established mechanisms would help reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation in crisis. “Secretary Austin also voiced concern about a pattern of unsafe or risky PLA air intercepts as an area of particular concern,” the official said.
The two sides ran through a number of regional issues including Russia, North Korea, and Taiwan.
“On Russia, the secretary reiterated the points that came out of President Biden’s meeting with President Xi … of strong opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons,” the official said. The secretary also spoke of China “to more faithfully endorse or enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The two leaders had a “lengthy exchange” about Taiwan, with Austin reiterating that U.S. policy towards Taiwan has not changed. The United States continues to oppose unilateral changes to the status quo, and the United States will continue to fulfill its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, the official said.
The two talks U.S. officials would like to see resumed are the Defense Policy Coordination talks and the Maritime Military Consultative Agreement. The first is concerned with defense policy, and the second is a panel where operators can hold discussions around safe and professional interaction in the air and at sea.
The secretary also reaffirmed that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. (Source: US DoD)
21 Nov 22. US seeks expansion of military presence in Philippines.
The United States is seeking an expansion of its military presence in the Philippines under a 2014 defense pact, U.S. and Philippine officials said, one of the initiatives Vice President Kamala Harris launched Monday during her visit to America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia.
Harries also reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in talks with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace in Manila.
The high-level assurance came a day after China’s coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris that Filipino navy personnel found and were towing to a Philippines-occupied island in the disputed South China Sea. China, the Philippines and four other governments are locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes in the strategic waterway.
“An armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. Mutual Defense commitments,” Harris told Marcos Jr. “And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines.”
Marcos Jr. thanked Harris. He said that given the upheavals in the region and beyond, “this partnership becomes even more important.”
On Tuesday, Harris flies to the western Philippine island province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, to showcase the level of concern America has for keeping the busy waterway open for commerce and navigation and to assure allies like the Philippines.
China’s increasingly aggressive actions to fortify its claims to most of the busy waterway have alarmed smaller claimant nations. The U.S. has been helping strengthen the Philippine coast guard, which said it would welcome Harris aboard one of its biggest patrol ships moored in Palawan.
Harris and her delegation also announced a range of U.S. assistance and initiatives to help the Philippines deal with climate change and looming food and energy crises, including talks on a proposed agreement that would provide the legal basis for U.S. exports of nuclear equipment and material for energy to the Philippines.
A former American colony, the Philippines used to host one of the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force bases outside the American mainland. The bases were shut down in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but American forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops under a 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.
In 2014, the allies signed the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows larger numbers of American forces to stay in rotating batches within Philippine military camps, where they can build warehouses, living quarters, joint training facilities and store combat equipment, except nuclear arms. The Philippines could take over those buildings and facilities when the Americans leave.
After the agreement was signed, the Americans launched construction projects in five Philippine camps and areas, including in the country’s south, where U.S counterterrorism forces have helped train and provide intelligence to their Filipino counterparts for years. Many of the projects were delayed by legal issues and other problems, Philippine defense officials said.
Large numbers of American forces stayed in local camps in southern Zamboanga city and outlying provinces at the height of threats posed by Muslim militants, which have eased in recent years. More than 100 U.S. military personnel currently remain in Zamboanga and three southern provinces, a Philippine military official told The Associated Press.
A U.S. official told reporters that new areas have been identified to be developed to expand joint security cooperation and training. He did not provide details, including the type of military facilities, locations and the number of American military personnel to be deployed in those sites, saying the projects would have to be finalized with the Philippines.
Philippine military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro said last week that the U.S. wanted to construct military facilities in five more areas in the northern Philippines.
Two of the new areas proposed by the Americans were in northern Cagayan province, Bacarro said. Cagayan is across a strait from Taiwan and could serve as a crucial outpost in case tensions worsen between China and the self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own.
The other proposed sites included the provinces of Palawan and Zambales, he said. They both face the South China Sea and would allow an American military presence nearer the disputed waters to support Filipino forces.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits the presence of foreign troops in the country except when they are covered by treaties or agreements. Foreign forces are also banned from engaging in local combat. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/AP)
22 Nov 22. Yemen: Commercial attack underpins volatile maritime security in Gulf and Red Sea waters. On 21 November, Houthi drones targeted a vessel and the Al-Dabba oil terminal, east of the city of Al Mukalla in the Hadhramaut governorate. The port and terminal had also been the target of a previous attack in late October, highlighting the elevated risk of attacks along the Gulf and Red Sea routes for commercial shipping. Targeting remains aimed at preventing the Yemeni government from exporting oil produced in the country, with the Houthis overtly condemning the practice. Additional attacks on oil terminals, port infrastructure and foreign-flagged vessels are likely and will exacerbate instability of shipping lanes. Incidental and collateral damage to personnel and assets may also occur. Heightened regional tensions will likewise sustain the likelihood of maritime tit-for-tat hostilities by Iran in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Nov 22. Kazakhstan: Short-term risk of anti-government protests will remain after president’s re-election. Earlier on 21 November, presidential elections were held in Kazakhstan. The incumbent president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was re-elected, allegedly with 81.3 percent of the vote. As a result of the vote, which reportedly experienced a 69.44 percent turnout, Tokayev has secured a new seven-year term. Despite presenting himself as a reformist candidate, Tokayev’s constitutional amendments and crackdown on the former president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s clan are unlikely to herald meaningful democratic and governance changes in the short term. Next year’s parliamentary elections will likely be a greater test of Tokayev’s willingness to increase political plurality and transparency. Following January’s unprecedented unrest, the recent arrests of individuals allegedly plotting ‘mass riots’ underline the potential for anti-government movements to emerge in the coming days and weeks. For further analysis. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Nov 22. Egypt: IS-linked terror attack underpins latent threat to infrastructure near Suez Canal. On 19 November, Wilayat Sinai, a branch affiliated with the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, killed at least seven Egyptian soldiers during an attack near El Qantara (Ismailia governorate). The attack highlights the latent threat of terrorism in areas near the Sinai Peninsula, which remains a hotspot for militant activity. The incident is in line with previous attacks in recent months, with jihadist groups largely targeting military- and government-linked assets and personnel. The attack further underpins the continued push by IS-affiliated militants to expand their territorial footprint to areas around the Suez Canal, increasing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and supply chains. While government-associated assets and personnel will remain the primary targets, physical risks for business staff and assets in governorates near the Suez Canal and Sinai Peninsular will remain elevated in the coming months. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Nov 22. Turkey-Iraq-Syria: Operation Claw Sword will increase bystander, collateral risks in coming weeks. On 20 November, Turkey carried out airstrikes against Kurdish military bases in northern parts of Iraq and Syria. The strikes mark the launch of Operation Claw Sword, which comes just one week after a terrorist attack in Istanbul. Turkish jets destroyed 89 targets, including infrastructure linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US. Additional targets were linked to the People’s Defence Units (YPG) and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Claw Sword also comes amid strikes by Iran against Kurdish targets in Iraqi Kurdistan. In an apparent retaliatory move, rockets launched from Syria killed two people in Karkamis (Gaziantep province, Turkey) earlier on 21 November. An escalation in tit-for-tat hostilities will highly likely exacerbate a deterioration in the regional security environment in the coming weeks, increasing bystander and collateral damage risks for assets and personnel. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Nov 22. DRC: Enduring international pressure on Rwanda will undermine M23 rebel operations. On 18 November, Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed during discussions with Kenyan officials on the need for an immediate ceasefire with the M23, as well as the group’s withdrawal from captured territories in eastern DRC. Officials will discuss the M23’s withdrawal during a second round of talks due to take place in Luanda (Angola) from 21 November. However, ever since the DRC and Rwanda agreed on 5 November to accelerate efforts to remove M23 fighters from the former, the group has advanced into Kibumba and Mwaro, located around 14 miles (23km) north of Goma (Nort Kivu province). This underlines the likelihood of further fighting, regardless of the talks. However, mounting regional pressure on Rwanda to cut its support for the M23 will undermine the group’s offensive capabilities, increasing the likelihood that it will comply with ceasefire and withdrawal agreements in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
22 Nov 22. Mali: Jihadist southern expansion elevates the threat of kidnaps of foreign nationals in Bamako. On 21 November, members of the Institute of Islamic-Christian training confirmed that a German priest was kidnapped by suspected Islamic extremists in Bamako on 20 November. The incident, the first kidnapping of a Westerner in Bamako in over a decade, comes amid a southern expansion of jihadist groups in and around Bamako. With international support for Mali diminishing, as Western nations and regional states withdraw from the UN’s mission in Mali (MINUSMA), it is unlikely that military authorities will be able to reverse the southern expansion of al-Qaeda and IS-aligned jihadist groups. This will sustain the increased risk of kidnapping to foreign nationals within Bamako, particularly threatening staff in sectors deemed to be ideological targets such as representatives of non-Islamic religious organisations and NGOs. (Source: Sibylline)
22 Nov 22. Thailand: Bomb attack highlights sustained threat of militancy in Deep South. On 22 November, a car bomb exploded in a police compound in the southern province of Narathiwat, killing one police officer and injuring at least 29 other people. Bomb disposal personnel subsequently found an unexploded bomb planted opposite the compound, in a suspected attempt at a ‘double tap’ attack designed to explode later to target responding security forces. No group has taken responsibility, but the Deep South region of Thailand near the border of Malaysia has been host to a decades-long separatist insurgency. While peace talks resumed between the Thai government and the main insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) earlier this year, little progress has been made. Attacks in the region have also continued, exacerbated by the fact that many splinter groups exist. Targets typically include state security forces, as well as businesses owned by non-Muslim Thais as highlighted by the spate of attacks against convenience stores in August. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Nov 22. Austin Heads to Indo-Pacific to Consult with Allies, Partners.
The Indo-Pacific region is the Defense Department’s priority theater, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s trip to Indonesia and Cambodia demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the region, said senior DOD officials.
Austin will discuss the bilateral military relationship between the two nations with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. This is the secretary’s fifth visit to the Indo-Pacific region and his third to Southeast Asia since taking office.
The secretary spoke about his travels to the region during a speech at the Halifax International Security Forum earlier in the day. He traveled to the region because the Indo-Pacific “is the key to an open, secure and prosperous world,” he said. “And the U.S. Defense Department’s pacing challenge is an increasingly assertive China that is trying to refashion both the region and the international system to suit its authoritarian preferences.”
Since the end of World War II, a rules-based international order that has kept the peace in the Indo-Pacific.
“Indonesia plays a critical role in supporting the rules-based order, not just in Southeast Asia, but in the Indo-Pacific region and globally,” said a senior defense official.
Indonesia was the host of the recent G-20 meeting, and next year Indonesia will also be the chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “Indonesia has really been stepping up to play a leading role in bringing countries in the region together,” the official said. “We want to talk with about how we can continue to work together to uphold a lot of the rules that we think are important in the region.”
Among the topics that will be explored is defense modernization and interoperability.
The two leaders will discuss some of the results of Exercise Garuda Shield, which was held in Indonesia in April. Garuda Shield included 4,000 service members from 12 countries. “I think this really shows … how this relationship has grown and that it is not just about what we do together bilaterally, but, increasingly, how the U.S. and Indonesia are working in a network of allies and partners in the region,” the official said.
Austin will next travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he will attend ASEAN’s Defense Ministerial Meeting Plus. This is the first in-person meeting of the group since 2019. “It’s the only forum we have for Indo-Pacific defense ministers to come together in a ministerial setting like this in Asia, so it’s an important opportunity for like-minded partners — and some who aren’t like-minded — who want to sit together … and put everything on the table,” the official said.
Officials expect to discuss maritime security cooperation and maritime domain awareness.
The defense ministers will also discuss events in Europe where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created ripples that are felt in the Indo-Pacific.
“Beijing, like Moscow, seeks a world where might makes right, where disputes are resolved by force, and where autocrats can stamp out the flame of freedom,” Austin said in Halifax.
President Joe Biden said after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali last week that “there need not be a new Cold War” between China and the United States.
Still, DOD must remain clear-eyed about the threat of China, the secretary said.
” military activities in the Taiwan Strait are growing increasingly provocative, with aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers on a near-daily basis. We’ve also seen a sharp increase in the number of dangerous PLA intercepts of U.S. and allied forces … that are operating lawfully in international airspace over the South and East China Seas.”
Working with allies and partners in the region is the best way to defend the rules-based architecture and deter aggression. “We’re drawing on the lessons from Ukraine to further bolster the self-defense capabilities of our Indo-Pacific partners,” Austin said. “We’re helping them to become more agile and resilient. And we’re working toward an open, secure future that advances our shared interests and shared values.” (Source: US DoD)
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