MOMBASA, Kenya — In November, the port of Merka in southern Somalia, previously held by the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) alliance, was captured without a fight by soldiers of the rival Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In the aftermath of Merka’s fall, the U.N. worried that the ICU might halt aid shipments to the starving country. Those fears proved premature, but ultimately accurate. Last week, further advances by the Islamic Courts threatened to disrupt incoming food convoys. Merka’s fall was a watershed event for this nation of 8 million that hasn’t had a functional central government since a brutal civil […]

Third of a three-part series. Click here to read Part I, and here to read Part II. COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — In a career spent fighting the Tamil Tigers, Gen. Gerry de Silva (ret.), a former commander of the Sri Lankan army, learned a thing or two about information warfare. In campaigns in the north of the island, time and again he found himself confronting disinformation among the Tamil population. “It’s a disinformation program even to their own people, to their own cadre,” he told World Politics Review in an interview at his family’s home in the Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood […]

KAMPALA, Uganda — Rumors abound about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that has terrorized northern Uganda for the past 20 years and now is thought to be active in Congo, Sudan and Chad. Some of them are stock rumors regularly applied to rebel leaders: that he’s bullet proof, for instance, or that he speaks with spirits for guidance. And then there are a few more unusual ones: that among his rumored several dozen children with more than several dozen wives, one son is named George Bush, while another is named Salim Saleh, after the […]

PEACE MISSION — According to a soon-to-be published book on the history of U.S.-Vatican relations, President George Bush told an emissary of Pope John Paul II in early March 2003 that Jesus was guiding him in deciding whether to invade Iraq. Cardinal Pio Laghi, a senior Vatican diplomat, had come to Washington with a last-minute appeal from the pope to avert an American attack on Iraq. According to the cardinal’s own account, quoted in “Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the United States — Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict,” his meeting with Bush in the Oval Office began with the […]

Second of a three-part series. Click here to read Part I. COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — No one understands the importance of Sri Lanka’s information war quite like N. Vithyatharan, an editor whose two Tamil-language newspapers — one in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, the other in Colombo — are “continuously targeted by pro-government forces.” Vithyatharan is a small man with a listing walk that suggests heavy burdens. During a visit to his Colombo office, he related how in May 2006, on the night before international press freedom day, five masked gunmen shot up the Jaffna compound of the newspaper there, […]

Earlier this month, the Pentagon issued a directive (.pdf) raising “irregular warfare” (IW) to the same level of importance as conventional battles. The December 2008 directive defines IW as operations to fight terrorists and insurgents, enhance the defense capacity of foreign governments, and promote stability in conflict-prone regions. It asserts that it is now Department of Defense policy “to recognize that IW is as strategically important as traditional warfare.” Although the U.S. armed forces have long performed these tasks, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has often done so only with great reluctance. The Pentagon developed considerable expertise […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis took a turn for the worse late last month when disgruntled members of the usually loyal Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) went on a six-day rampage, beating people, looting shops and clashing with anti-riot police in the capital city of Harare. More than 150 soldiers, some of them members of President Robert Mugabe’s Presidential Guard, sang revolutionary songs denouncing the octogenarian leader during the rampage, raising fears of an uprising. “The situation looked out of control,” said a Harare lawyer who came face to face with the disturbances. “The soldiers beat up riot police, […]

It would be simple to lay the blame for last week’s riots in Jos, Nigeria, at the doorstep of ethno-religious rivalries. This line of analysis always makes sense to outside observers and conforms to the meta-narrative of the “clash of civilizations.” But in Nigeria, nothing is ever that simple. In a move designed to shift the blame for the riots, Hon. Jonah Jang, the governor of Plateau State (where Jos is located), has been issuing statements to the effect that subversive elements from neighboring Chad and Niger were the main perpetrators of last week’s violence, which killed almost 500 people […]

First of a three-part series. COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — In the silent, low-res imagery of the closed-circuit video footage that rapidly spread across YouTube, the young Tamil woman appears unafraid, even poised. Wrapped in a crisp sari, hair in a tight bun, she waits across the desk from the political secretary of a Sri Lankan minister. But something, almost imperceptible in the footage, goes wrong. So as a dozen people go about their business behind her, the woman rises from her chair, tugs at her bra and explodes, her torso vaporized in a C4 blast that kills her and the […]

Surrounded by unstable regimes and beset by national conflicts, the current Ethiopian government has long been preoccupied with containing any militant threat. In June, even as the country was gripped by its worst famine in 25 years, the government announced plans to increase its military budget by $50 million — to $400 million — just one week after appealing to the international community for assistance. As a result, in addition to deploying troops into Somalia for the past two years, and intermittently clashing with Eritrean troops along their northern border, Ethiopia’s military has also fought several internal conflicts in the […]

The commando-style terror attack in Mumbai, India, that claimed nearly 200 lives in late November highlights the ongoing danger Islamic extremists pose to even the most developed democracy in South Asia. The attack — and the diplomatic maneuvering in its wake — also casts light on the increasingly important network of relationships between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. These four countries — three of them nuclear states — will likely decide the future of South Asia in an era of terrorism, coalition warfare and national rapprochement. The U.S.-led “war on terror,” which has seen scores of nations deploy […]

Ten years ago, Bruce Riedel sent a memo to his boss, then-President Bill Clinton. In it, he called Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world. A ticking time bomb. Riedel’s reasons were many. Armed with nuclear weapons, Pakistan sponsored terrorists, was awash in drugs and consistently teetered on the verge of war with neighboring India, its nuclear rival. Later, he called it a “hothouse of terror.” Today, little has changed and Riedel, reportedly tapped as President-elect Barack Obama’s Pakistan adviser, continues to bristle at the problems the nation of 165 million people poses for the United States. “All of […]

In August, the Pakistani army launched a full scale military offensive in the Bajaur agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Since then, fierce clashes have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of militants and the destruction of key Taliban strongholds. This forceful demonstration of Pakistani resolve is a positive change from past efforts. However, military operations will fail if they undermine the single most important principle for victory: winning the support of the local population. And currently Pakistan is not aiding the war-ravaged Pashtun tribes of the FATA. There is no doubt that significant force is required to […]

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, attention has increasingly focused on Pakistan and the troubling, if opaque, links between its military intelligence apparatus and Islamic terrorist groups. But despite the very real risk of a widening of the regional war already underway in Afghanistan, the problems emanating from Pakistani soil defy military solutions. In a WPR Spotlight, we examine The Pakistan Problem. In Four Countries’ Relations Will Decide Region’s Future, David Axe examines the complicated dynamics at play between Pakistan, its two neighbors, India and Afghanistan, and the United States. In Advisers’ Views Provide Clues to Obama Approach Seth […]

BLAIR’S OPTIMISM — Thetrouble with Tony Blair is that he’s so good with words that you tendto forget the message and just sit back and enjoy the music. Thinkingback on it, though, his report on the state of play in theIsraeli-Palestinian impasse, delivered in Washington to members of theCouncil on Foreign Relations, seemed to offer little concrete evidenceof progress. The former British prime minister has spent thepast year as the Middle East Quartet’s point man in the region. Hisfour-point plan for jump-starting the peace process was clearlyaddressed to the Obama administration. (What isn’t, these days?) But toborrow a current Afghan […]

FORMER CHILD SOLDIERS FIGHT DIFFERENT BATTLE — A group of six former African child soldiers have come together to launch a United Nations-backed advocacy group, the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW), which will help other children escape from war and create a worldwide network of survivors seeking to achieve rehabilitation. “We are determined to help children whose fate has been similar to ours regain their confidence and their lives. We also hope to remind the world of how resilient children are, when given the right support,” the founders said in a statement released Nov. 20. The founders […]

Last week’s attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai focused the world’s attention on what some are already calling the latest front in the War on Terror. Many questions remain as to the attackers’ origins as well as what, if any, ties they had to Pakistani terror groups previously operating in Kashmir, global terrorist networks like al-Qaida and the Pakistani military intelligence service. Two WPR articles put the attacks in their regional context:Mumbai Attacks Complicate U.S. Regional Policy, by M.K. BhadrakumarMumbai Attacks Put Scrutiny on ISI, by Jayshree Bajoria.