Tuareg Malian soldiers under the command of Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou patrol the streets of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 16, 2013 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

Tuareg rebels and Malian government officials have begun meeting in Algeria to try and hammer out the terms of a lasting peace in northern Mali. In July, the parties signed a road map deal that paved the way for talks on a wide array of political and security issues. In September, they will return to the Algerian capital for three weeks of negotiations. But so far, the prospects for peace look slim with so many divisions among rebel groups. The Algeria talks take the place of the 2013 Ouagadougou peace accord signed in neighboring Burkina Faso, which had allowed government […]

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Aug. 4, 2014, to attend the U.S.-Africa Summit (AP photo by Cliff Owen).

On Jan. 25, 1986, rebel fighters overran the final hideouts of Uganda’s crumbling military government of Tito Okello after five years of bush war and tens of thousands of deaths. Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) concluded its Maoist-inspired insurgency with a promise to end 24 years of violent, corrupt and militarized post-independence politics. The 42-year-old Museveni became an American ally, economic liberalizer and, in the eyes of many Ugandans, a youthful visionary who would marry the leftist progressivism of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania with the realpolitik exigencies of post-Cold War politics and Western hegemony. Nearly 30 years on, an […]

Hundreds of newly trained Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18Km south of Mogadishu on Thursday Feb. 17, 2011 (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh).

More than any other organization, Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, widely known as al-Shabab, has left its mark on the recent history of Somalia. Political and radical Islam have a long history in the country, but no group has survived longer than al-Shabab, and no group has emerged stronger from challenges and setbacks. More than any other actor involved in the two-decade-old Somali conflict, al-Shabab has demonstrated its ability to adapt. Today, the group has emerged from an existential crisis and looks stronger than it has in years. Though al-Shabab is often referred to as simply a “terrorist group,” the term does […]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi speak during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Ahmed Saad).

When asked recently by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman whether China, as the “biggest energy investor in Iraq,” should behave more like a stakeholder there, U.S. President Barack Obama had a pointed reply. The Chinese, he said, “have been free riders for the last 30 years and it’s worked really well for them,” while the United States has had to bear the burdens of maintaining international security and prosperity for the good of the world. Those comments triggered a sharply negative reaction in the Chinese press. Although Obama might not have intended to be so blunt, his remarks […]

Crew of a Polish Wolverine Armored Personnel Carrier practice demounting and taking up defensive positions during a live fire exercise as part of Exercise Steadfast Jazz at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, Nov. 6, 2013 (NATO photo).

Ironically for Poland, World War II—a conflict that officially started in order to defend Polish sovereignty and territorial integrity—resulted in the country ceasing to exist as an independent state and military actor. During the Cold War, the Polish People’s Republic military, which was the second-strongest member of the Warsaw Pact after the Soviet Union, primarily served Moscow’s plans, rather than Polish national interests. Formed with little divergence from Soviet vision and doctrine, it was large, with over 400,000 troops in peacetime; heavy, with over 7,000 tanks and armored vehicles; hierarchical; and devoid of indigenous strategic guidance. The fall of the […]

Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley greets U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in New Delhi, India, Aug. 8, 2014 (AP photo by Manish Swarup).

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited New Delhi on a political mission to sound out Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government on the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) first proposed two years ago by Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta. The United States is promoting DTTI as the “centerpiece” of the India-U.S. defense relationship going forward, hoping it will lead to a renewal of the New Framework for Defense Relationship signed by both sides in 2005, which expires next year. The 2005 framework accord led to U.S. military sales totaling $9 billion to India, but that happened essentially […]

A fighter with the Islamic State group stands guard in front of the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Christian village of Bartella, northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014 (AP photo).

For Islamic extremists, particularly the most angry and violent ones, al-Qaida is yesterday’s news. From Yemen to Africa, fighters are leaving al-Qaida-affiliated groups and joining the ultra-radical and violent movement now known as the Islamic State. This gives some worrisome hints about the future of extremism in the Islamic world. The ascendance of the Islamic State, initially known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is due in part to al-Qaida’s failures. Over the years much of the funding al-Qaida used to energize and stoke militant movements was cut off or dried up. Pummeled by the United States […]

Two A-129 Mangusta helicopters fly over an unknown location in Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2013 (AP photo courtesy of the Italian Army Public Affairs Office in Herat).

Next month’s NATO summit needs to make greater progress on so-called Smart Defense, the alliance-wide effort to get more collective benefits out of individual members’ defense budgets. The initiative aims to induce NATO governments to acquire military capabilities collectively that they cannot afford individually, so that even members with limited resources can contribute to expensive joint projects. The May 2012 Chicago summit launched almost two dozen Smart Defense projects in such areas as logistics and sustainment; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and force protection. One country leads each project. For example, Germany is in charge of pooling maritime patrol aircraft; France […]

Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour border point, in northern Iraq, Aug. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

There has been a lot of talk about humanitarian interventions over the past week, but much of it has been muddled, misleading or both. Russia has pressed for a “humanitarian mission” to the war zone in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies argue that Moscow is just using this as a pretext to invade the region. While telling Russia to back off, the Obama administration has stumbled into a new intervention of its own, launching air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The […]

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter positioned behind dirt barriers along the front line with militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State, Mariam Bek village, between the cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk, Iraq, June 30, 2014 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

A Texas court is the new battleground between the Iraqi government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Baghdad insists that a tanker full of oil off the Texas coast, originating from the country’s Kurdish region, properly belongs to Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, and obtained a ruling to that effect from a Texas judge. On Aug. 4 the Kurdistan Regional Government filed a motion in a Texas court to lift the order. A KRG statement said that oil had been “legally produced, exported, and sold . . . in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and law.” The dispute comes amid […]

Iraqis from the Yazidi community chant anti-Islamic militants slogans in front of U.N. headquarters to ask for international protection in Irbil, Iraq, Aug. 4, 2014 (AP photo).

Last June, when Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, abruptly fell to a militia of ultra-radical Islamists barreling in from Syria, the consensus among international observers was that the stunning collapse of Iraqi forces was the result of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s disastrous policies. Maliki’s sectarian regime had undermined the Iraqi military’s unity, preparedness and willingness to fight. To be sure, Maliki’s governing approach has proved devastating for Iraq, but events of the past few days point to a much more ominous explanation. The new evidence coming from the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq suggests that Baghdad’s dismal response to the […]

Syria U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja'afari listens after a U.N. Security Council vote on referring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes, May 22, 2014 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Last week, a former Syrian military photographer, his identity hidden under a blue hoodie, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee with thousands of photographs allegedly showing widespread torture and killing in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. Known as “Caesar,” the photographer defected last year with a trove of what he says is evidence of mass atrocities in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war: 55,000 photographs of more than 11,000 victims—many of them tagged and numbered. The photographs first came to light last January, in a report by three prominent international lawyers who previously prosecuted cases at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra […]

The U.S. military's Active Denial System, a non-lethal ray gun, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Jan. 24, 2007 (AP photo by Elliott Minor).

Conventional militaries normally avoid fighting in cities, instead seeking open ground where generals can see what is happening and control their forces as much as possible. Certainly there have been large urban battles like Stalingrad, Manila and Berlin during World War II, but they were the exception rather than the rule, an act of desperation by a commander with no other options. Militias and insurgents, though, see things differently. Usually weaker than state security forces, they often choose to fight, as British Gen. Rupert Smith put it, “amongst the people,” in the hope that state security forces will not bring […]

1st Lt. Salvatore Buzzurro, USARAF military mentor, works with members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces on basic soldiering skills in preparation for the African Union Mission in Somalia (U.S. Army Africa photo).

As African heads of state gather in Washington this week for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the continent looks relatively peaceful, at least in comparison to other regions. Even the agenda of the summit, which according to its website “will advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa,” reflects Africa’s relative stability. Though peace and security issues are admittedly included in the agenda, they seem more like a footnote than a priority. It is irrefutable that conflict in Africa has declined significantly over the past two decades and that African economies and the continent’s burgeoning middle classes represent a […]

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin speaks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Brussels, June 25, 2014 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

A recently released paper of the Defense Committee of the U.K. House of Commons on Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the implications for Western security concludes that “events in Crimea and Ukraine represent a ‘game changer’ [that] will have significant implications for resources, force structures, equipment and training.” In addition to their excellent analysis of Russian strategy and tactics, the authors offered useful recommendations meant to inform both the next U.K. Defense and Security Review and the upcoming NATO summit. The alliance will need to adapt its capabilities and approach to collective defense if it is to avoid being caught […]

Rebels sit in the now-emptied hospital in Malakal, South Sudan, February 26, 2014 (AP Photo/Ilya Gridneff).

As President Barack Obama convenes a summit of nearly 50 African leaders in Washington focused mainly on economic opportunity, security and health crises continue to undermine the continent’s potential. South Sudan and the Central African Republic are torn by civil war; Nigeria and Kenya are threatened by terrorist groups; and Sierra Leone and Liberia are suffering from the worst Ebola outbreak to date. But while Western powers like the U.S. and France continue to wield influence, it is increasingly Africa’s leaders who are driving events. This report covers developments in every region of sub-Saharan Africa, drawing on articles since the […]

Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo greets supporters with his "three-finger greeting" symbolizing the unity of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia, July 23, 2014 (AP photo by Dita Alangkara).

On July 22, the Indonesian Election Commission declared that Jakarta Gov. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had won the country’s presidential election. Even if the result is challenged in court, the margin of victory is wide enough for most to assume that Indonesia—the world’s fourth-largest nation, third-largest democracy and largest Muslim-majority country—will inaugurate Jokowi as its seventh president on Oct. 20 after a decade of stable leadership under outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Jokowi’s victory is nothing short of historic. By choosing a 53-year-old former furniture exporter over Prabowo Subianto, a former general and son-in-law of late dictator Suharto, Indonesians have elected […]

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