Mukhtar Robow, left, the then-deputy leader of al-Shabab, with the American-born Islamist militant Omar Hammami in southern Mogadishu, Somalia, May 11, 2011 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh).

On Aug. 13, Somalia’s government won a perceived victory in its fight against al-Shabab when Mukhtar Robow, the former deputy leader of the militant group, surrendered. Also known as “Abu Mansur,” Robow was one of the group’s founding leaders, and the only one still living who had trained with the Taliban in Afghanistan. His decision to stop fighting invited speculation that other militants might also lay down their arms. Yet as has been the case with a series of recent high-level defections, the specific circumstances of Robow’s surrender suggest it may not represent a major turning point in the battle […]

Afghan army commandos train at Camp Shorab in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2017 (AP photo by Massoud Hossaini).

President Donald Trump’s advisers have touted his strategy in Afghanistan, unveiled last week, as taking a regional approach to America’s longest war. But Trump’s speech contained only the briefest reference to the roles and responsibilities of two of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, India and Pakistan, which are so critical to the long-term fortunes of that beleaguered land. Trump’s call for a bigger role for India and his warning to Pakistan about its cross-border dealings were nothing new, and they failed to acknowledge the larger strategic tradeoffs and complexities in the region. A true regional approach would look quite different and would […]

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil women cry at the graves of relatives who died in fighting between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels, Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka, May 18, 2015 (AP photo by Eranga Jayawardena).

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—In June 2009, one month after Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended, a Tamil mechanic named Sri was abducted while he was walking home from work in the country’s eastern Batticaloa District. His wife, Jaya, heard the news from neighbors, who watched as two men on a motorcycle grabbed Sri and forced him between them on their bike before speeding off. Jaya, who was seven months pregnant at the time, searched all over Batticaloa for Sri, including in various military camps, but could not find him. She tried to lodge a complaint—known as a first information report, or […]

A Belgian special forces soldier looks through binoculars east of Tal Afar, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Balint Szlanko).

The beginning of every academic year presents professors with a small cavalcade of perplexities and irritants. Universities use the summer break to come up with innovative administrative guidance and supposedly improved computer systems that inevitably backfire on first contact with students or teachers. It normally takes just a few weeks to fix these glitches. But occasionally an academic will encounter a rather more significant challenge at the start of a semester: A creeping fear that their discipline is doomed. As someone who teaches International Conflict Resolution, or ICR, I currently feel something like that. This is not because there is […]

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari after his arrival at the airport in Abuja, Nigeria, Aug. 19, 2017 (Photo by Sunday Aghaeze for Nigeria State House via AP).

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, WPR Associate Editor Robbie Corey-Boulet curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent. More than 100 days after leaving Nigeria to treat an undisclosed medical condition in the U.K., Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari returned to Abuja over the weekend. Supporters hailed his arrival, and Buhari seemed eager to move past the uncertainty and tension provoked by his absence, criticizing “political mischief-makers” while appealing to a sense of national unity. As Alex Thurston wrote for WPR toward the beginning of Buhari’s trip—his second long-term stay in London this year—the immediate complications for Nigeria […]

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses an audience of soldiers about his new Afghanistan policy, Fort Meyers, Virginia, Aug. 21, 2017 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s senior editor, Frederick Deknatel, and associate editors, Robbie Corey-Boulet and Omar Rahman, discuss the new U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan announced by President Donald Trump and what it reveals about Trump’s foreign policy agenda so far. If you like what you hear on Trend Lines, as well as what you’ve seen on WPR, please think about supporting our work by subscribing. We’re currently offering a 25 percent discount on the first year of an annual subscription to our podcast listeners. To take advantage of it, just enter the word “PODCAST” in […]

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gather for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square meant to demonstration their rejection of U.N. sanctions, Pyongyang, Aug. 9, 2017 (AP photo by Jon Chol Jin).

What is the point of the United Nations Security Council? The U.N. Charter says that the body “has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international security,” but it has only ever played this role haphazardly. The Security Council seizes on some crises tenaciously and ignores others entirely. As a result, the doyen of U.N. studies, Adam Roberts, has aptly described the organization as a “selective security system.” Hankerers after global governance may wish the council were more consistent. For more pragmatic observers, the interesting question is what sort of situations it selects to concentrate on. A quick glance at the […]

Afghan soldiers stand guard following weeks of heavy clashes to recapture territory from Taliban militants in Baghlan province, March 15, 2016 (AP photo by Massoud Hossaini).

Washington remains consumed by America’s long military involvement in Afghanistan. Many policy experts, members of Congress and government officials favor continuing the existing approach, while others—including President Donald Trump himself—are unconvinced. Whichever side prevails this time, one thing is certain: This is not an isolated debate. Rather, it is the beginning of a deeper reconsideration of the role that counterinsurgency should play in U.S. security strategy. The United States first took on counterinsurgency, known by its military acronym COIN, in the 1960s out of fear that the Soviet Union was exploiting nationalist and leftist insurgencies to weaken the West. The […]

Carla del Ponte, who recently resigned her post from the commission of inquiry on Syria, presents report findings during a press conference, Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 18, 2013 (Salvatore Di Nolfi for Keystone via AP).

Amid the torrent of news this week regarding multiple brewing crises from North Korea to Venezuela, one item of seemingly minor importance managed to filter through. It was a personnel matter, a bureaucrat’s decision, but one that highlights the magnitude of the current struggle to develop an international system for conflict resolution, accountability and justice. On Sunday, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria confirmed that its most prominent member, Carla del Ponte, had resigned from the body. The resignation points to a major flaw in the system: the ability of powerful players, in this case Russia, to thwart […]

A fighter with the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on the front line in Raqqa, Syria, July 27, 2017 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

Mission accomplished? That was doubtless then-President Barack Obama’s expectation as he anxiously watched a team of American Navy SEALs kill al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden, six years ago. It was clearly Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s hope last month when he visited the city of Mosul, newly liberated from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But consider this: Al-Qaida had some 400 combatants on Sept. 11, 2001. Today it is stronger than ever, with several thousand adherents in countries from the Arabian Peninsula to Southeast Asia. If Western powers like the United States and the United Kingdom and their regional partners like […]

Supporters of Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi gather to mourn after his death, Kinshasa, Congo, Feb. 2, 2017 (AP photo by John Bompengo).

Does the United Nations have to go back to square one in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Mounting violence in the DRC threatens to put one of the organization’s longest-running large-scale peacekeeping operations in an unsustainable position. At a time when U.N. officials and diplomats in New York are talking about limiting blue helmet operations in the face of U.S. budget cuts, the organization faces a security test in the DRC that could highlight why it really needs more military resources, not fewer. There have been U.N. peacekeepers in the DRC since 1999. The first international personnel were deployed to […]

Security forces leave after responding to an attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 31, 2017 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

While not as dangerous as Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan remains one of America’s thorniest and most frustrating security challenges. Since the George W. Bush administration intervened in that country after the attacks of 9/11, the United States has tried to create an Afghan government and train security forces that could stabilize the country and eradicate extremist organizations like al-Qaida that had been given sanctuary there under Taliban rule. The idea was that after some period of international help, the government and security forces of Afghanistan would be able to stand on their own. Unfortunately this has not worked. While […]

Thai bomb squad officers examine the wreckage of a car after an explosion outside a hotel in Pattani province, southern Thailand, Aug. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Sumeth Panpetch).

Amid a recent spate of attacks, and with peace talks floundering, the long-running separatist insurgency in southern Thailand is showing worrying signs of escalation. On May 9, twin explosions at a busy supermarket in the southern province of Pattani injured 61 people, before a roadside bomb planted by militants killed six Thai soldiers in the same province on June 19. Peace talks between Thailand’s ruling military junta, which seized power after toppling the democratically elected government in a 2014 coup, and a loose organization of rebel groups have been ongoing for more than two years. However, little progress has been […]