Afghanistan: Taliban Increases Pressure on U.S. to Withdraw Forces
Mar 31, 2021
Taliban fighters fired two rockets at a U.S.-led coalition military base in Khost province. There were no casualties, but this marks the first attack on U.S. forces by the Taliban in over a year, when both sides signed the Doha Agreement.
Why It Matters: The risk for similar attacks will increase as the May 1 deadline draws nearer, which will put more pressure on the U.S. to withdraw and could create room for security threats to proliferate. The Taliban has repeatedly emphasized that a troop withdrawal is mandatory for peace talks to move forward. Increasing U.S.-Taliban hostilities will also ease pressure on the Islamic State, which maintains a presence in Afghanistan and could pose a greater threat in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan.
Ivory Coast: Suspected al Qaeda Jihadists Attack on Burkina Faso Border
Mar 29, 2021
Gunmen attacked two Ivory Coast military posts near the northern border with Burkina Faso overnight March 28-29. Military sources speaking to Reuters said two soldiers died in an attack on the military post at Kafolo and another soldier was killed in an attack against a post in nearby Tehini.
Why It Matters: While no one has yet claimed responsibility, suspicions have fallen on Amadou Kouffa’s Katiba Macina subgroup of al Qaeda’s Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the primary jihadist group active in southwestern Burkina Faso. Katiba Macina’s presence near northern Burkina Faso and Ghana also raises the possibility of one-off large terrorist attacks targeting tourists and Westerners in Ivory Coast akin to the 2016 Grand-Bassam terrorist attack in southern Ivory Coast.
China, Iran: Comprehensive Strategic Agreement Signed
Mar 29, 2021
China and Iran signed a 25-year “Comprehensive Strategic Agreement” covering economic, security and political issues. Full details on the agreement have not been released, but an 18-page document in Persian was leaked on Iranian social media in 2020. The leaked document outlined a number of areas of cooperation including the development of strategic infrastructure in Iran, like the Chabahar port and investment into sectors including oil and gas and petrochemicals.
Why It Matters: China views Iran as a critical node of its Belt and Road Initiative given its strategic location; it has entered a similar agreement with the nearby United Arab Emirates. The terms of the agreement are vague and the signing of the document has generated controversy in Iran over concerns of becoming too dependent on China and of giving China too much control over issues like natural resources.
Myanmar: U.S. Suspends Trade Dialogue Following Deadly Protest Crackdown
Mar 29, 2021
The White House suspended bilateral U.S.-Myanmar engagement under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement effective March 29 until the restoration of a democratically elected government, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced.
Why It Matters: While suspending this dialogue will not tangibly impact U.S.-Myanmar trade, it does lay the groundwork for the United States to potentially reverse aspects of its economic opening to Myanmar a decade ago. Washington will tread carefully, however, given the risk of economic impacts on the Myanmar population and of pushing the Myanmar government closer to China, which already dominates the Myanmar economic picture.
Taiwan, China: Taipei’s Use of Missile Deterrence May Invite Strategic Risks
Mar 29, 2021
Taiwanese Deputy Defence Minister Chang Che-ping stated on March 29 that Taiwan’s military is now “largely using land-based missiles” instead of just aircraft to track Chinese aircraft when they fly into Taiwanese airspace, Reuters reported. Chang cited repeated Chinese incursions as a “war of attrition.”
Why It Matters: The uptick in Chinese air incursions has led Taiwan to consider the costs of scrambling jets almost daily. Chinese incursions into Taiwanese airspace increased rapidly in late 2020, reaching a total of 380 sorties for the year, the largest annual rate since 1998. Taiwan will continue to use jets for interception, but increased reliance on missile systems raises questions about effective air deterrence and risks of escalation, as it is unclear whether Taiwan tracks Chinese incursions with scanning radar, targeting radar or even radar locks. As the United States strengthens military ties with Taiwan, Beijing will increase economic and military pressure on the island, including via air incursions.
Venezuela: Border Conflict Breaks Out Between Military and Colombian Militants
Mar 26, 2021
An armed conflict between the Venezuelan military and former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members broke out on March 21 in the western Venezuelan border province of Apure and has continued through the week. The clashes, which have involved aerial bombs and landmines, have so far left two Venezuelan soldiers dead, 32 Colombian guerrillas detained and six former FARC camps dismantled.
Why It Matters: The former FARC guerrillas have retained territory thus far, indicating that violence is likely to continue in the next week as the Venezuelan military attempts to push the rebels out of Apure. Regardless of the immediate fighting, violence along the border with Colombia is likely to continue due to a persistent lack of state presence amid Venezuela’s continued instability.
China, U.K.: Beijing Sanctions London Over Xinjiang ‘Disinformation’
Mar 26, 2021
China has sanctioned 10 individuals and four entities from the United Kingdom, according to a March 26 statement released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which condemned British concerns over “so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang” as “nothing but lies and disinformation.” In response, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated that China should allow U.N. investigators into Xinjiang if Beijing truly wanted to ease human rights concerns.
Why It Matters: U.K.-Chinese relations risk continuing to sour amid Beijing’s persistent and seemingly obstructionist diplomatic practices. Though the United Kingdom is attempting to balance human rights concerns in China with collaboration on climate change and trade, the new sanctions will further push London toward the U.S.-led campaign to counter China’s most aggressive economic and security advances.
Jordan: Protesters Demand Political Reforms on Anniversary of Arab Spring
Mar 25, 2021
Several thousand protesters gathered in cities across Jordan demanding political reforms on the tenth anniversary of the country’s first Arab Spring protest.
Why It Matters: The government’s strong response to the protests, which included media content control and security force deployments, demonstrates its capacity to manage unrest before it becomes a threat. But the protests are nonetheless indicative of the potentially destabilizing economic and political grievances harbored by many Jordanians, especially as the country emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.
A Battle in Central Yemen Further Dims Hopes for Peace
An ongoing battle in the heart of Yemen could become a major setback in U.S.-Saudi efforts to end the country’s civil war, should it leave the resource-rich city of Marib in Houthi hands.
Talks reportedly took place in Oman between U.S. and Houthi officials on Feb. 26 as part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s renewed diplomatic push to facilitate a cease-fire in Yemen and ease the country’s humanitarian crisis, which includes 2 million refugees in the surrounding Marib province. But fighting has nonetheless continued apace in Marib, with Houthi rebels making unprecedented gains in its offensive — stoking fears that President Mansoor Hadi’s Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government could soon lose control of the strategic central city for the first time in Yemen’s nearly seven-year-long civil war.
Yemeni Houthis have continued to launch routine attacks on Saudi Arabia itself, including drone, missile and rocket strikes on the kingdom’s southern border.
The Saudi-backed but domestically weak Yemeni government has so far managed to hold control of Marib, but the city and surrounding region’s oil, gas and agricultural resources have made it an increasingly attractive target for Houthi rebels.
The United States, meanwhile, has been pressuring Saudi Arabia to restrain its military campaign in Yemen, leaving the Hadi government with less direct support on the ground.
Over the course of its five-year military intervention in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has sought to keep its troops out of the direct line of fire by relying on airpower, proxies and special forces. Such tactics, however, have resulted in allegations of human rights abuses and civilian casualties.
The loss of Marib city before the start of substantial peace talks would likely further weaken the Hadi government while emboldening Houthi military action against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen could seek to take advantage of a weaker Yemeni government.
Yemen’s ongoing civil war has undercut joint counterterrorism operations between the Hadi government, STC, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
Mar 26, 2021
The recent uptick in maritime attacks between Israel and Iran risks triggering a broader escalation that leads to more attacks on Israeli commercial interests. Coming after reports that an Iranian missile hit an Israeli-owned container ship in the Arabian Sea while it was traveling from Tanzania to India.
Mar 24, 2021
The Ever Given — one of the world’s largest class of container ships, with space for over 20,000 containers — became lodged across the width of one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes. The extreme backlog will result in immediate security risks and add further delays to covid-19 disrupted trade routes.
Mar 25, 2021
North Korea’s first ballistic missile test since U.S. President Joe Biden took office suggests that Pyongyang will seek to advance the development of key weapons systems without jeopardizing the prospect for long-term U.S. outreach or unifying the international community around a harder-line stance against the regime.
Mar 18, 2021
The European Commission unveiled on March 17 a plan to create a Digital Green Certificate with verified information on people’s COVID-19 status. If approved, the certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result, or recovered from the virus.
Mar 9, 2021
Russia’s parliament called for new laws to “protect digital sovereignty” after Facebook blocked access to articles published by Russian news sites that the U.S. social media company determined were inaccurate.
Mar 8, 2021
Although the Houthis have claimed a March 7 attack on Saudi Aramco targets that caused minimal damage, several signs suggest it could have originated from Iraq or Iran. Nevertheless, further attacks against Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco from both Yemen and Iraq are likely.
Mar 4, 2021
Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele will be free to implement sweeping reforms that may strain his relationship with the new U.S. administration. A surprise landslide victory has vastly bolstered the 39-year-old president’s hold on Congress
Mar 4, 2021
Disputes over customs controls in Northern Ireland threaten the trade and security agreements the European Union and the United Kingdom reached in 2019 and 2020, and risk a reignition of sectarian violence. They will also make it hard for Brussels and London to find deals on issues such as financial services.
Global Situation Report April 2021