Rapid Fire
25 Mar 2015|

Jamal Benomar, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, UN Envoy to Yemen

This week in Rapid Fire we see the end of Australia’s longest war, more on women in combat, arming Ukraine, Yemen’s civil war, Iran’s role in Iraq, the Tikrit offensive, Boko Haram, and children during wartime.

Operation Slipper, Australia’s longest war, officially came to an end over the weekend with welcome home parades being held in Canberra and the six state capitals (for images from the day, see this Defence interactive map). Defence Minister Kevin Andrews acknowledged the 263 Australians wounded and 41 Australian Defence Force members killed during the campaign in Afghanistan that started in 2001.

Debate about women’s combat roles rages in the US. Katelyn van Dam, a Marine Corps attack helicopter pilot and combat veteran, gives her two cents (and some statistics) on arguments about physicality and the supposed increased incidence of physical injury over on War on the Rocks, Teresa Fazio, another Marine Corps officer, also weighed in on the debate in the New York Times, reminiscing of her time in combat training and the surmountable experiences that gender integration brings.

The Washington Post’s interview with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is worth reading for his response to the idea of sending lethal arms to Ukraine. He believes that a military victory against Russia is impossible and that the discussion is ‘something for the American public opinion’. Navalny also argues that the introduction of ‘visas and financial restrictions for oligarchs would hit Putin’s regime harder’.

Escalating violence in Yemen has led to an emergency UN Security Council meeting. Jamal Benomar, the US special envoy to Yemen, stressed during the meeting, that the nation is being pushed ‘to the edge of civil war’—a strange statement considering long-standing reporting on prolonged civil conflict in the country. The meeting came a day after Houthi fighters seized the Yemeni city of Taiz, the same day US Special Forces were officially pulled out due to the deteriorating situation.

The increasing presence of Iranian forces in Iraq continues to spark controversy in the US with former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN Zalmay Khalilzad advocating for a tighter relationship with Iraq to break Iran’s ‘stranglehold’ over the nation. This an opinion is shared by ASPI’s visiting fellow Lieutenant Colonel Ken Gleiman from the United States Pacific Command and former commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq General David Petraeus. On War on the Rocks, David Johnson a senior researcher from the RAND corporation has questioned whether, without US combat assistance, Iraqi state forces are sufficient to defeat Islamic State, arguing that in order to realise the US’ goals, it is imperative to have combat troops on the ground.

Last week saw reports of a slowdown in the battle to retake Tikrit from Islamic State. Marwan Jbarra, head of the tribal council in the province of Salah al-Din, of which Tikrit is the capital, has stressed that ‘the battle did not stop in the way that we’re hearing in [the] media’. Prime Minister Haider al-abadi also commented that the campaign was going ‘according to schedule,’ stating that any evidence of a slowdown was due to Iraqi forces wishing to avoid civilian casualties.

Soldiers from Niger and Chad have liberated the Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram. The once populous city of 200,000 is now largely empty as an entirely foreign force holds the city. Officials from both Niger and Chad have noted the absence of Nigerian soldiers, with Second Lieutenant Mohammed Hassan stating ‘we asked them to come, to receive this town from us, but they have not come.’ Writing on RealClearDefense, CNA Corporation analysts Julia McQuaid and Patricio Asfura-Heim argue that it will take more than counterterrorism operations to defeat Boko Haram – those efforts must be accompanied by political, economic and developmental reforms.

In a new CNA Corporation report, released early March, McQuaid and Asfura-Heim recommend that US Special Forces could be the missing piece of the puzzle in combatting and eventually defeating Boko Haram. An article in Marine Corps Times assesses these recommendations, noting that given Nigeria’s reluctance to accept international assistance, other nations such as Chad or Niger may be more willing to accept it.

And finally, the Huffington Post released a photo essay last week that gives a haunting juxtaposition of children at play during wartime.

Sarah Hately is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Chatham House