Rapid Fire
31 Mar 2015|

In this week’s Rapid Fire we update on Boko Haram, Yemen, the Tikrit campaign, US troops in Afghanistan, chemical weapons in Syria, and the ‘Warlord Problem’ in Ukraine.

Trouble continues in Nigeria as the presidential election commences. Troops from Chad and Niger claim that without a sustained Nigerian presence they have to ‘take certain towns twice’ which has significant ‘human and material cost’. Chadian President Idriss Déby has also been fiercely critical of how uncooperative the Nigerian military has been, saying that without support the Chadian army is ‘wasting time.’

The increased tension comes days after reports surfaced that at least 400 women and children were kidnapped by Boko Haram as they made their retreat from the Nigerian town of Damasak. An article from Reuters quotes residents of the town who claim to have seen the kidnappings occur. A spokesperson from the Nigerian military however has refuted the claims, stating that ‘there was no kidnapping… the people have been rescued and moved.’

A surge in the conflict in Yemen has led to an Arab leaders summit in Egypt on March 26, where a unified military force was announced. At this stage Saudi Arabia has taken no decision as to whether it’ll send ground troops into Yemen. Al Jazeera gives a visual representation of the countries vocally supporting military action in Yemen.

Roger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute writes that calling the crisis in Yemen a proxy war against Iran fails to consider the domestic politics at play: ‘sometimes conflicts are driven by local issues much more than we think.’

This week in Tikrit has seen the US decide to take action, conducting air strikes on the Iraqi city as Shia militias and the Iraqi government continue to fight for control. (For more information on the aerial assaults in Tikrit, check out this week’s aerospace update Flight Path.) Unfortunately, the US presence has had a negative backlash with Shia militias boycotting the fight and withdrawing. Interestingly, US Army General Lloyd Austin told a senate hearing that the removal of Shia militias was intentional as a precondition for US involvement, not that the withdrawal was a reaction to the US presence.

The US will slow its removal of troops from Afghanistan. The change of plan has been prompted by a request from Afghani President Ashraf Ghani. The US is set to maintain its numbers at 9,800 until the end of 2015, with 2016 numbers to be decided later this year. Originally troop deployment was set to decrease to 5,500 by the end of 2015; however, it’s believed that the end goal of complete withdrawal by 2017 won’t be impeded.

In a follow up to last week’s report of alleged chemical weapon use by IS in Syria, the official White House Statement on the chlorine bomb allegations can be found here. Al Mauroni, Director of the US Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies, weighs in on the debate at War on the Rocks. He argues that we shouldn’t get caught up on occasional chlorine bombs, as we risk ‘overlook[ing] the real tragedy—the thousands of Syrians being killed.’

Finally, Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University, writes at Foreign Policy in response to claims (specifically this one, this one, and this one) that the conflict in Ukraine is being fuelled by warlords who are set on destabilising the state. Instead Motyl argues that the ‘warlords’ are in fact the saving grace of the embattled nation.