President Assad of Syria is less concerned about the state of his country socially and economically. His major concern is to hold on to power at whatever cost to his people. This has made Syria a battle ground for global opposing forces and for almost a third world war. This same war with its hydra headed dimensions has also given birth to several wars – notably the war against ISIL – including the new clearance of Africa. What in the world is this war about?
The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing multi-sided armed conflict in Syria fought primarily between the government of President Bashar al-Assad, along with its allies, and the various forces opposing the government. The unrest in Syria, part of a wider wave of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, grew out of discontent with the Assad government and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for his removal were violently suppressed. The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian government and its allies, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved, or rendering support to one faction or the other.
Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, some factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria, joining groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIL. In 2015, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and some Turkmen groups, to form the Syrian Democratic Forces, while most Turkmen groups remained with the FSA. Iran, Russia and Hezbollah support the Syrian government militarily, while beginning in 2014, a coalition of NATO countries began launching airstrikes against ISIL. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and rebel groups of severe human rights violations and of many massacres. The conflict has caused a major refugee crisis. Over the course of the war a number of peace initiatives have been launched, including the March 2017 Geneva peace talks on Syria led by the United Nations. However, the fighting continues.
On the 19th of July, 2017, it was reported that the Donald Trump’s administration had decided to halt the CIA program to equip and train anti-government rebel groups, a move sought by Russia. On 5th September, 2017, the government′s Central Syria offensive culminated in the breaking of the three-year ISIL siege of Deir ez-Zor, with active participation of Russian Airforce and Navy. That was shortly after followed by the lifting of the siege of the city′s airport. On the17th of October, 2017, after over four months of fierce fighting and the U.S.-led coalition′s bombardment, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had established full control of the city of Raqqa in northern Syria, previously the de facto capital of ISIL. At the end of October, the government of Syria said that it still considered Raqqa to be an occupied city that can ″only be considered liberated when the Syrian Arab Army enters.″
By mid-November 2017, the government forces and allied militia established full control over Deir ez-Zor and captured the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq and Iraq′s town of al-Qaim, which was concurrently captured from ISIL by the Iraqi government. On 28 November, 2017, it was reported that China will deploy troops to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On the 6th of December, 2017, Russian government declared “complete victory” over ISIS. The president, Vladimir Putin repeated the words of defense minister emphasizing “the total rout of the terrorists.”
During the period within which ISIL has been suffering massive defeats on all fronts, many of the ISIL fighters have fled to various parts of the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa. In recent times, Africa has experienced severe terrorist activities as reflected in the massive blast in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu on Oct. 14th and more recent terror attacks in Somalia, Niger and Egypt. These highlight Africa as a new battleground against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as they are being driven out of the Middle East.
The Islamic State, or ISIL, is seeking a safe harbor after major losses in Iraq and Syria. And al-Qaeda looks to secure its future by expanding operations and alliances in the sub-Saharan region. “The collapse of the Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa (Syria) will cause a re-coalescence of fighters on the continent, most of whom come from North African countries.” Tunisia alone sent at least 6,500 volunteers who joined al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Many are now likely to join an expanding terrorist network in West and Central Africa. The region is likely to be hit by a severe wave of returning Islamic State fighters while al-Qaeda expands into other states such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Niger has become a new source for recruits, and Ansarul Islam, an al-Qaeda franchise, is now active in Burkina Faso. On Oct. 4th, militants believed to be affiliated with ISIL ambushed a team of U.S. troops in Niger, killing four soldiers and wounding two. The attack came as U.S.-supported Syrian rebels were on the verge of retaking Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital that fell on the 17th of October.
In Africa currently, as a result of the movement of ISIL fighters from Syria and the Middle East, French troops deployed in West and Central Africa are now about 4,000 with headquarters in Chad which has been battling extremists along with Cameroon and Nigeria. Germany has also sent 1,000 troops to support a U.N. counter-terrorism operation in Mali. The U.S. military has stepped up its anti-terror fight elsewhere in Africa to meet the growing threat, staging exercises and conducting training operations. American military leaders have established a drone and air base in Agadez, Niger, and deployed 800 troops in the country to operate alongside anti-terror efforts in Nigeria and Mali. The number of U.S. troops in Somalia has also quadrupled within the year to 400 personnel. The war is now in Africa where America and allies battle to clear the terrorists.
Underscoring the need for a non-military aid, a report issued recently by the International Crisis Group (ICG), found that the rise of Islamic militancy is a response to social problems. “Economic conditions, especially poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment compounded by corruption and bad governance are incentives for terrorism.” This statement is credited to Augustin Loada, Director of the Center for Democratic Governance, an independent policy research group in Ouagadougou. These factors fuel the risk of violent extremism in Africa.
With African lives being lost, with the non African lives being lost in Africa to achieve a peaceful Africa free from activities of terrorists, with the level of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, African governments must also immediately commence a full scale onslaught on poverty, illiteracy and unemployment alongside the conventional battle so as to succeed in this fight against terrorism on the continent and to have a prosperous Africa.
– Jereaghogho Efeturi Ukusare
Photo by AFP/ Getty Images