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29 Jan 23. Iran: Recent drone strikes. Late on 28 January, Iranian state-media announced that multiple drones ‘unsuccessfully’ targeted military sites near the city of Isfahan in central Iran. No casualties or major damage were reported. Sources state that air defence systems successfully intercepted the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
While the Iranian government has not blamed any entity for conducting the attack, senior officials will likely release statements in the coming days attributing blame to its ‘enemies’, including the US and Israel. Officials will release inflammatory statements and threaten retaliatory action for the recent attacks, without specific details.
Likely escalations in tensions between Iran and Israel in the coming days and weeks will increase the likelihood of regional tit-for-tat hostilities. Notably, any increase in Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups will drive the likelihood of Israel-backed attacks, particularly amid significant deteriorations in the security environment between Israel and the Palestinian Territories (see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 27 January 2023).
Such hostilities will likely take the form of low-level attacks against critical infrastructure, including the targeting of military and energy facilities in order to disrupt operations. A return to an Iran-Israel ‘shadow war’ will also increase maritime security risks, posing threats to vessels aligned with Israel transiting through Gulf shipping lanes such as the Strait of Hormuz (see Sibylline Alert – 16 November 2022). Equally, the threat of retaliatory disruptive cyber attacks launched by Iran against perceived threat actors will remain elevated in the aftermath of the recent drone attacks.
29 Jan 23. Austin Looks to Build on Strengths of Alliances With South Korea, the Philippines.
The security environment in the Indo-Pacific is growing more complex and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III will meet with allies in the Republic of Korea and the Philippines to continue efforts to strengthen the security environment in the region.
China remains the pacing challenge for the Defense Department and is fomenting policies designed to change the international rules-based order that has guaranteed peace since World War II.
The security environment is growing more complicated and that is why DOD is “strengthening and bolstering our regional alliances and partnerships to ensure that our combined deterrent is stronger than ever before with the aim of sustaining and ensuring regional peace and security,” a senior defense official speaking on background said.
The network of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific is the basis for the international rules-based order. “Our network of treaty allies around the world, but particularly in the Indo-Pacific stretching from the East China Sea down to Oceana, is vital to the security and the stability of the region,” the official said.
The alliances raise “the cost of coercion and aggression by any actor seeking to rewrite the rules of the road or to unilaterally change the status quo,” he said.
This is the secretary’s sixth trip to the region. He was last in the Indo-Pacific in November 2022 where he met with representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Siem Reap, Cambodia. But the secretary is also constantly in contact with defense leaders in the region. And while there have been six trips to the region, he has met with many of the leaders as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and during the NATO Summit in Madrid. He constantly keeps in telephonic or video contact, and he has hosted many of the leaders at the Pentagon. He met with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada earlier this month, for example.
During the trip, the secretary will focus on capabilities and interoperability with the treaty allies, the official said. This is key to deterring any challenge in the region. Specifically, the security environment is seeing a sharp uptick in destabilizing Chinese operational behavior. These include a major increase in dangerous air-to-air intercepts, as well as destabilizing PRC behavior including swarms of maritime militia vessels in contentious areas of the South China Sea.
China is not the only challenge in the region. North Korea is also disturbing the peace with increasing provocations including an unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches in the last year, and threats of testing nuclear weapons.
In both South Korea and the Philippines Austin is looking to continue to expand the scope of cooperation across multiple operational domains, including cyberspace and space. The secretary will also promote interoperability and look to build increasing complexity into combined training exercises and activities, the senior defense official said.
In South Korea, the two militaries will look to strengthen joint readiness training, including a return to live fire exercises in the country, the official said.
At the second stop in Manila, the secretary will get his first opportunity to meet with the new national security leaders, including President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. He will be hosted by Carlito Galvez, who is currently the acting secretary of National Defense. He will also meet with the Army Gen. Andres C. Centino, the chief of defense, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo.
“We anticipate that 2023 is going to be a very exciting year for the alliance,” a senior defense official traveling with the secretary said. “Right now, I think we’re seeing a very positive upswing in the trajectory of the relationship.”
In the Philippines, the two nations would like to build on the Balikatan exercise held in 2022. “We executed the largest iteration ever of our annual Balikatan exercise in its long history with around 9,000 troops across our military services, Coast Guard’s and special forces,” the official said. “We’re really looking forward to building on these achievements this spring.”
The secretary will also discuss speeding up implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. This allows the United States to rotate troops into the Philippines and operate facilities in the country.
The secretary will highlight the closeness of the U.S. alliance with South Korea during meetings with Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup. “The U.S.-ROK alliance is truly unique in terms of a combined force with unparalleled degrees of interoperability and integration, and that has stood us in very good stead for 70 years,” another senior defense official said.
The secretary will speak about the importance of extended deterrence to the alliance. “We have already done a lot to strengthen our extended deterrence posture in the past year, that included the deployments of fifth-generation aircraft over the past several months, the (USS) Ronald Reagan port visit,” the official said. “We have upgraded our dialogue on extended deterrence and I think are having a rich and productive discussion.”
Part of this effort is ensuring the two militaries have the training and readiness needed to deter any foe. “This undergirds deterrence,” the official said. “We are committed to taking the steps necessary to maintain combat credible deterrence as a U.S.-ROK alliance.”
The secretary will also discuss what the alliance means to the greater Indo-Pacific community. The South Korean military is very capable, and “we’ll be talking about — ways that we can work together to help increase the capability of our partners, both in Southeast Asia and potentially the Pacific Islands,” the official said.
With the Philippines, the two sides are looking to modernize the alliance to address new and emerging threats. “So obviously, the one that is first and foremost on everyone’s mind is the South China Sea,” the official said. “We have been very clear about which is that our treaty commitments do apply in the South China Sea and that an armed attack on Philippine forces or vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea, would be relevant to the defense treaty commitments that we have. We’ll be actively talking about what we can do together to address what has been a pretty notable period of harassment and coercion recently in the South China Sea.”
Overall, the trip is a recognition that the Indo-Pacific is America’s priority theater of operations. “We see the investments that we’re making to advance our allies, as grounded in the recognition that they are real force multipliers in our efforts to sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the official said. (Source: US DoD)
27 Jan 23. Israel-Palestinian Territories: Risk of retaliatory cross-border rocket attacks will remain elevated. Early on 27 January, Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip after its Iron Dome system intercepted two rockets reportedly launched by Palestinian militants towards Ashkelon. Rockets triggered alarms near bordering towns of Kfar Aza, Nir Oz, Ein Habesor and Magen. The latest escalations occur following armed clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp, resulting in at least nine Palestinian deaths (see Sibylline Alert – 26 January 2023). Further, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that his government would suspend security coordination with Israel, underscoring significant diplomatic deterioration. The threat level near the Israel-Gaza border will remain heightened in the coming days, elevating physical security risks for personnel and causing disruption to the overland movement of goods. Elevated ethno-religious tensions will sustain the likelihood of clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, particularly during Friday prayers.
27 Jan 23. Somalia: IS leader’s killing unlikely to significantly disrupt group affiliates’ capabilities. On the night of 25 January, US Special Operations commandos killed Bilal al-Sudani, a senior Islamic State (IS) leader in Somalia, and 10 other IS operatives in a helicopter raid against a mountainous cave complex in the northern Puntland region. The development is unlikely to have a significant impact on security conditions within Somalia. The group’s presence has been largely limited to northern Puntland, where it conducts very few attacks. The IS has also come under significant pressure from al-Shabaab, further limiting its local influence. However, US intelligence has identified him as one of the group’s top financial operatives, connecting him to the funding of IS affiliates across Africa, Europe and in Afghanistan. His death will likely have some limited impact on the capabilities of IS groups. However, many IS affiliates, particularly those in Africa, derive their funding from an array of local illicit networks, enabling these groups to maintain operations, sustaining international terrorism threats. (Source: Sibylline27 Jan 23. Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan: Strategic partnership will bolster socio-economic health, reduce border tensions. On 27 January, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a declaration on a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries. The two heads of state signed and exchanged more than 25 bilateral documents on various subjects, including cooperation in energy and customs. One of the most notable issues was the ratification of the delimitation of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Earlier in October 2022, Kyrgyz authorities arrested activists and politicians protesting against the border deal, which remains controversial in Kyrgyzstan. However, Bishkek’s willingness to respond quickly to protests on the border deal will mitigate the risk of major domestic unrest following the ratification. More broadly, the signing of the strategic partnership will improve socio-economic health and reduce the risk of border disputes in the long term.
27 Jan 23. Azerbaijan-Iran: Embassy shooting amid rising tensions reflects Shia Islamist threat in Azerbaijan. On 27 January, a man armed with a Kalashnikov rifle broke into Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran, killing the head of security. While Tehran has claimed ‘personal issues’ as the motive, the attack comes at times of rising tensions between the two countries. The two countries held military exercises near their borders in October-November 2022, and in November 2022 Iran claimed an Azerbaijani was behind a terrorist attack in Shiraz. The shooting at the embassy will elevate risks of further escalation as tensions between ethnic Azeris and Tehran grow, with military exercises on the border a realistic possibility in response. While it remains unclear whether Islamist motives played a part in the attack, deteriorating relations between secular Azerbaijan and Shiite Iran will have a direct impact on the threat posed by Shia Islamist elements inside Azerbaijan. Therefore, counter-terror operations, arrests and heated rhetoric are likely responses from Baku. (Source: Sibylline)
27 Jan 23. India-China: Prospects of further border clashes will sustain heightened regional tensions. According to a security assessment document by the Ladakh Police, Indian security authorities expect more clashes between the Indian and Chinese armed forces along their contested borders. Despite recent bilateral diplomatic breakthroughs on the matter (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 9 September 2022), tensions and suspicions remain high, sustaining a substantial risk of escalation. Military infrastructure building and force mobilisation on both sides of the border will aggravate tensions and the risk of occasional low-intensity clashes. The document also criticised the Indian security forces’ ‘play safe’ approach, noting that this created informal buffer zones which have been exploited by China’s ‘salami slicing’ tactics. The report was submitted at the Director General of Police conference on 20-22 January, attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah. The assessment will possibly lead to Indian security forces making operational changes along the disputed borders, though diplomatic negotiations with China are expected to continue.(Source: Sibylline)
26 Jan 23. Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Somalia Operation. On January 25, on orders from the President, the U.S. military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal-al-Sudani, an ISIS leader in Somalia and a key facilitator for ISIS’s global network. Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan. This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad. No civilians were harmed as a result of this operation. We are grateful to our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation. (Source: US DoD)
26 Jan 23. Israel-Palestinian Territories: Armed clashes in Jenin will increase bystander risks, mobility disruption in West Bank. On 26 January, armed clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian gunmen occurred at the Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank. The clashes killed at least nine Palestinians and injured at least 16 others. Israeli troops had been carrying out a counter-terrorism operation, reportedly attempting to arrest Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives and thwart a major planned attack in Jenin. The West Bank city of Nablus and East Jerusalem are observing a one-day general strike in solidarity with Jenin. Further strike action and protests are highly likely across West Bank cities in the coming days, increasing bystander risk and mobility disruption. Meanwhile, Israel has raised the threat level at the Israel-Gaza border, preparing for the possibility of limited rocket fire from the Gaza strip in the coming days. However, the risk of a major cross-border armed escalation remains unlikely at present. (Source: Sibylline)
26 Jan 23. New Zealand defense priorities could slow after resignation of PM Jacinda Ardern. Political realities may push defense reform to the backburner, as another delay is revealed. The resignation of New Zealand Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern came as a surprise to the country and, analysts say, could result in muddying the country’s already stilted progress on defense reform. Former education and justice minister, Chris Hipkins, has taken over the leadership of the governing Labour Party, but there are concerns Ahern’s Jan. 19 resignation may accelerate the trend that started with the Covid-19 pandemic, whereby defense has become less of a priority as public health and the economy became the overwhelming concerns of the government.
Though unrelated to the change in prime minister, that concern is likely only to deepen, as the New Zealand Ministry of Defense told Breaking Defense that the completion of the first part of a new four-part defense review is being delayed for a second time.
Anton Youngman, deputy secretary at the Ministry of Defense told Breaking Defense the department “continues to progress the Defense Policy Review… . The Minister of Defense will be provided a Defense Policy and Strategy Statement and Future Force Design Principles for consideration by the middle of 2023.”
The latest delay could push the review up to nine months later than expected. Publication of the initial Defense Policy and Strategic Statement was already delayed from October 2022 to March 2023, whilst the Future Force Design Principles Statement was already pushed back from April to June, so it appears the first two parts of the review will now be published together.
The MoD still intends to complete the whole review on schedule by mid-2024. It is an important development in New Zealand’s defense posture. The Terms of Reference for the review that was announced in July 2022 were for the country to adopt a more pro-active stance in the Pacific region and move away from a focus on homeland defense — a considerable shift for New Zealand.
However, an election is scheduled to take place on 14 October 2023 and the question is whether the governing Labour Party can secure a third term and remain in power to finish the review that it started and implement changes. The government has been focused on managing the global pandemic and now is turning to the risks of rising interest rates and inflation, so it’s losing focus on defense, analysts said.
“Defense policy is not going to be a priority in the next few months for the current government with a new leader,” Robert Ayson, professor of strategic studies at Victoria University in Wellington, told Breaking Defense.
However, the current defense minister is likely to stay in the post, providing some continuity, said Terry Johanson, a lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University. “There is a review process already underway so whilst the timelines might be delayed they will continue with that,” he told Breaking Defense.
Ayson explained that the review process was designed to culminate in the publication of a Defence White Paper and Defence Capability Plan, so it was always going to span successive electoral cycles. However, he added that a change of party in government to a National Party-led administration could see a different emphasis on defense.
“National seem odds on favorites to be in government by the end of the year, barring an unforced own-goal by [opposition leader] Chris Luxon. However, we don’t have an awful lot to go on in terms of their approach to defense and how much they buy into Labour’s outlook,” Ayson said.
Ayson said that the National Party “tend to talk big on defense, but they tend not to actually move much on capability.” The last time a Labour Prime Minister was in power when a defense white paper was produced was 1987, when he said the party “certainly made a series of commitments to capability.”
Ardern’s government published a Strategic Policy Statement and Defense Capability Plan (DCP) during her first term and pushed through a series of capability investments that are just starting to bring fruit.
These include the 2018 decision to buy four P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s six P-3K2 Orion aircraft and the 2020 sole source selection of the C-130-J tactical transport aircraft to replace its 50-year old C-130H planes. The P-8As will enter service this year with the C-130J to follow in 2024-25.
But Ayson said not all elements of the DCP will be pursued because it was ambitious and some parts “are going to be quietly delayed.” However, this will be the case whichever party is in government, he added.
“With National, who knows what their approach would be. We’re not talking about National overturning things in major ways. It’ll mainly be just timings and a slip in priorities, which might be a little less than they even are now,” Ayson said.
The office of the shadow defense minister, Tim van de Molen, told Breaking Defense that its priorities were to increase pay and living conditions, improve basic equipment and oppose any re-establishment of a combat air wing — called the Air Strike Force — in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Although the return of combat jets has been touted from time to time in the media over the past two decades, Johanson said that the return of combat jets to the Royal New Zealand Air Force is “not credible”.
No one suggested the National Party would change the terms of the review, and Johanson believes that if they get into government, while “they’d want to put their own stamp on it” in some way, they wouldn’t want to interfere too much in the review process.
The new defense review is likely to reinforce the Defence Assessment 2021 that acknowledged the impact of Great Power Competition in the Pacific and the threat of climate change. That would probably mean a change of emphasis by New Zealand towards developing relationships with Australia and the South Pacific. It is not clear if this will mean any new capabilities are ordered.
“I just don’t see what scope there will be for significant new capability coming out of this, because that would require going back to Cabinet and seeking additional resources at a time when I think that defense is not high on the pecking order,” Ayson said. “It’s more likely to be about reprioritization as opposed to major new investment, so that New Zealand can be a bigger player in the Pacific.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Breaking Defense.com)
24 Jan 23. Kuwait: Resignation elevates government instability risks; undermine socio-economic health outlook. On 23 January, Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah submitted the government’s resignation after week-long disagreements over a loan relief bill. The move comes three months after the government’s formation in October 2022, highlighting enduring divisions between legislative and executive bodies in the country. Tensions between the Kuwaiti parliament and the cabinet resurfaced last week (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 18 January 2023) after the parliament’s Financial and Economic Affairs Committee voted against the withdrawal of several draft economic bills. Government resignations are not uncommon in Kuwaiti politics, and this marks the fifth since January 2021. Persistent political deadlocks and power struggles will continue to hamper measures to advance economic diversification, as well as the ratification of critical fiscal reforms. This will threaten the resilience and stability of the country’s socio-economic health outlook. (Source: Sibylline)
26 Jan 23. Haiti: UN reiterates international force deployment recommendations; armed conflict risk sustained. On 23 January, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated a request to deploy a specialised international armed forces mission to Haiti. In his regular three-month update report, Guterres also urged countries in the UN Security Council to consider the suspension of deportations of Haitians. The request for an international intervention was initially made by Haitian officials in October 2022. Haiti has been suffering a gang-related crisis affecting the functioning of the government and challenging counter-narcotics efforts. Criminal gangs control significant areas of Port-au-Prince and key infrastructure, including access to highways and energy depots. The US has attempted to lobby regional neighbours to join a possible mission, however, no country has responded positively to the demand. This is in part because of the risk of an armed conflict with gangs. (Source: Sibylline)
25 Jan 23. Mali: Jihadist competition amid power vacuum elevates kidnap, attack risks in Menaka. On 24 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that unidentified assailants abducted a Malian doctor working for the UN agency, Mahamdou Diawara, from his vehicle in the north-eastern town of Menaka. His driver, who was also attacked, was left behind. The incident was likely perpetrated by either Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) or the al-Qaeda-aligned JNIM, both of which are currently competing for dominance of the Gao and Menaka regions. The incident underlines the elevated kidnap and attack threats to NGOs and local staff emanating from the reduction of local government security capabilities, and the ongoing competition between jihadist groups to fill the power vacuum. Conflicts between the two groups for greater influence over larger urban centres within the region will likely continue through the coming months, sustaining the elevated threats to local staff. (Source: Sibylline)
25 Jan 23. DRC: Fighter jet incident raises tensions; risk of direct armed conflict remains low. On 24 January, Rwandan forces fired at a Congolese Sukhoi-25 fighter jet, which was able to land at Goma Airport despite reportedly being hit. Rwandan officials claim that this is the third Congolese jet to violate Rwandan airspace, forcing them to take defensive measures. Kinshasa denies these allegations, stating the jet was shot after having conducted strikes against the M23 rebel group; the Democratic Republic of Congo government claims Rwanda supports the group. Congolese officials have called the incident an act of war. The incident will further exacerbate tensions between the two states, but direct military confrontation beyond fighting between the DRC and Rwandan proxies, such as the M23, is unlikely. Rwanda has previously accused the DRC of firing artillery into Rwandan territory, and the DRC has in recent months accused Rwanda of acts of war in relation to the M23. The DRC will increase pressure on regional forces to assist in combating the M23, elevating conflict in border areas of North Kivu. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Jan 23. Australian spending on the rise as 2023 budget looms for Treasury. Defence spending is likely to play a larger role than previous years in the 2023 federal budget, according to Treasurer Jim Chalmers.
The federal budget is traditionally released to Parliament by the Treasurer in the second week of May each year. An interim federal budget was delivered by the Albanese government on 25 October last year.
“Already in the budget I handed down in October there was something like a 13 per cent increase in defence spending over the forward estimates, and I think from something like $49bn to $56–$57bn dollars in the defence budget,” Chalmers said in a public statement on 22 January.
“That is before we factor in the government’s coming decision on submarines and the Defence Strategic Review, and so we expect defence spending in the budget to grow very strongly.
“The numbers will be presented in the May budget if we can, but already we’re spending 2 per cent of GDP. Already that’s rising substantially.
“It’s one of the fastest growing areas of spending in the budget. We need to make sure that we can find room for what is this necessary investment in our national security.”
The Australian defence budget has previously reached $48.6 bn or 2.11 per cent of GDP for the 2022–23 financial year; raised from $44.6 bn in the 2021–22 period.
Defence spending will be impacted by the Defence Strategic Review and significant existing contracts for maritime, aviation and land-based equipment. Australia has committed to the acquisition of Black Hawk helicopters and is in international discussions regarding its AUKUS agreement. (Source: Defence Connect)
23 Jan 23. Brazil: Political instability risks will remain low despite likely pro-Bolsonaro calls for coup. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva removed the head of the Brazilian army on 21 January following accusations that the military failed to secure government buildings during protests in the capital Brasilia by anti-government groups on 8 January. The move appears to contradict a previous statement by Brazil’s defence minister, José Múcio, on 20 January stressing that the country’s armed forces were not directly involved in the protests. The former president, Jair Bolsonaro, relied heavily on military personnel to fill government roles. Lula will likely seek to replace several of these officials in the near term, which will likely increase calls for a military intervention or coup d’etat among Bolsonaro supporters. However, the risk of political instability is currently low given that most political groups have distanced themselves from Bolsonaro and the protests. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Jan 23. Peru: Bystander risks will rise amid protesters’ increased targeting of security personnel. Around 200 anti-government protesters held a police officer hostage for several hours in La Joya (Arequipa region) on 22 January, before negotiators secured his release. The protesters reportedly poured fuel on the officer and threatened to kill him. Protesters in Yunguyo (Puno region) also attacked a border post before setting it on fire. Since December 2022, anti-government protests have largely focused on key infrastructure (e.g. airports and railways lines) and mining operations. Although such locations will continue to act as flashpoints for protests, the targeting of security personnel represents a change in protesters’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). This behaviour will increase the risks for bystanders and assets, especially those in the vicinity of security infrastructure, such as police stations and border posts. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Jan 23. Colombia: Resumption of talks between government, guerrilla group will not reduce risk of attacks. On 21 January, the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group announced that it will resume peace talks with the Colombian government in Mexico. The declaration comes after the Colombian government cancelled a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN, which it claims remains in force with four other rebel groups. Previous attempts to negotiate with the ELN’s leadership have been unsuccessful, partly due to dissent within the group’s ranks. There is significant uncertainty surrounding the prospects for a prolonged ceasefire and demobilisation efforts. This will sustain the risk of attacks, especially in areas of Colombia bordering Venezuela. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Jan 23. Burkina Faso: Change of security partner will undermine counter-insurgency operations. On 21 January, the authorities demanded the departure of roughly 400 French troops stationed in Burkina Faso. While reports claim that French forces have been given a month to withdraw, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that he is awaiting further clarification from the transitional president, Ibrahim Traore. The request for France to withdraw from Burkina Faso likely indicates that the authorities have reached an agreement with the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC, see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 6 January 2023). The Wagner Group’s entry will increase the risk of human rights abuses against communities perceived to be supportive of jihadists, exacerbating ethno-religious tensions and militant groups’ recruitment drives. The loss of French military support will further undermine the local security posture, particularly rapid response and aerial capabilities. This will increase the likelihood of attacks against larger military bases, increasing the operational freedom of jihadist groups and elevating the threats to business operations in rural areas. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Jan 23. Cameroon: Engagement with armed groups will likely help to facilitate conflict reduction. On 20 January, Canada’s foreign ministry claimed that Ottawa has agreed to facilitate a peace process between the Cameroonian government and several separatist groups from Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. The government previously launched a national dialogue to resolve the conflict in 2019. However, this did not include rebel groups, a factor which caused the conflict to persist. Despite this, not all groups will be included in the future talks, largely due to their highly fragmented nature. As such, the conflict will likely continue in the coming months regardless of the peace process. However, if agreements can be reached with some of the armed groups, additional groups will likely join the process, while other active armed groups will likely lose support. This will reduce conflict risks in the long term. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Jan 23. Sudan: Protests likely to escalate around finalisation of agreement with military. On 19 January, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) civilian political group stated that they expected the signing of a final agreement and the formation of a new civilian-led government within three weeks (see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 7 December 2022). Outstanding issues primarily relate to questions of accountability for military abuses, military reform and integrating relevant parties into the agreement. Talks over these issues are expected to be finalised in the next two weeks. However, some civilian groups, the Resistance Committees, remain opposed to the agreement and have led multiple demonstrations in Khartoum this week, resulting in violent clashes with security forces. Further demonstrations are likely over the next few weeks, with announcements from talks acting as flashpoints for larger protests. Efforts to disperse protesters will disrupt citywide movement in Khartoum and elevate threats to bystanders. There is also a realistic possibility that authorities will disrupt internet access impacting communications. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Jan 23. Kazakhstan: Snap parliamentary elections will mitigate domestic unrest in short term. On 19 January, Kazakh president, Kassim-Jomart Tokayev, dissolved the country’s lower parliament and set 19 March as the date for new parliamentary elections. The announcement comes following a promise for fresh elections following the deadly unrest in January 2022 and a subsequent constitutional referendum in September 2022, which ostensibly reduced the power of the presidency in favour of parliament. Whether the upcoming elections will deliver the genuine political reforms promised by Tokayev, or remain as cosmetic reforms, will likely be dependent on whether opposition parties will be allowed to run, such as the currently banned Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (DPK). Candidates have yet to be confirmed, but all parties currently in parliament broadly support Tokayev’s ruling Anamat Party. The elections are nevertheless an attempt by Tokayev to establish a clean break with former President Nursultan Nazarbayev and will likely mitigate the risk of major anti-government unrest in the short term.
20 Jan 23. Peru: Protests continue across the country, operational risks remain elevated. On 19 January, over 3,500 anti-government activists protested in Lima and other locations. Security forces clashed with protesters in the capital, leading to a suspected arson attack targeting a building in San Martin Plaza. Nationwide, roadblocks were reported in 18 of the country’s 25 regions. In the southern region of the country, protests led to the momentary suspension of operations at the Alfredo Rodriguez Ballon (Arequipa) and Alejandro Velasco Astete (Cusco) international airports. Mining company Hudbay also reported that key machinery and vehicles were damaged and burnt during protests in Cusco. The risk of domestic unrest remains high in the country and is likely to extend into February. Further operational disruptions are expected. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Jan 23. Heightened ethno-religious tensions will jeopardise Israel’s normalisation of ties with Saudi Arabia. On 19 January, representatives from the UAE, Bahrain, the US and Israel confirmed the expansion of the Abraham Accords throughout 2023. States agreed to cooperate on issues such as security and climate-related policies. Since 2020, the normalisation of ties between Arab states and Israel has bolstered foreign investment opportunities and the liberalisation of Gulf economies, enhancing market access. Saudi Arabia and Iraq remain averse to diplomatic relations with Israel, underscored by legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament in May 2022 which prohibits any normalisation of ties. Regardless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed interest in bilateral Israeli-Saudi ties, seeking opportunities to develop energy, technology and construction sectors. While Israel’s right-religious government is unlikely to impact long-term trade ties with Arab states, there is a risk that heightened ethno-religious tension in the Palestinian Territories will hinder progress towards the normalisation of ties with Saudi Arabia in the coming months.(Source: Sibylline)
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