Since 2014 a decade of declining violence reversed and terrorism deaths were up by about 20 percent. This was mainly because of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Boko Haram in Nigeria. ISIL sees itself as the new leaders of the Islamic world and employs extreme violence in pursuit of that goal. As a result one thing Saudi led Sunnis, Iran led Shia, the West and even al Qaeda can agree on is that ISIL is evil and a threat to all that must be destroyed. Meanwhile Boko Haram actually caused more deaths in 2014 than ISIL but ISIL was much better at publicizing its murderous activities. In 2015 the Islamic terrorist related deaths declined in large part because Moslem nations have finally become less tolerant of the Islamic radicalism that is often tolerated and supported in Moslem nations. The decline in terrorism related deaths is welcome, because they get the most publicity. Keep in mind that most war deaths are not caused by terrorists. In 2014 terrorism related deaths (mostly Islamic terrorism) accounted for 20 percent of all war related deaths.
Islamic terrorist deaths are a special case. While Moslems oppose Islamic terrorism within their own countries Western expatriates working in Moslem nations have been reporting for years that there are often joyful public celebrations when news arrives (often vis satellite TV) of a major Islamic terrorist attack in the West. Despite quietly enduring this Islamic terrorism for over a thousand years more Moslem nations are coming to understand that with modern technology and weapons these Islamic fanatics are a more serious threat to Moslem governments than to non-Moslem ones. So in 2015 Pakistan continued a 2014 offensive to clearing out Islamic terrorist sanctuaries they had long tolerated. An Arab coalition went to war with ISIL even while it fought Iran backed Shia rebels in Yemen. In a more telling move the Gulf oil states are openly admitting links with Israel. While this is mainly for the “war” with Shia Iran it also helps with the fight against ISIL and Islamic terrorism in general.
ISIL and over two decades of growing Islamic terrorism is an unexpected side-effect of all the oil wealth Saudi Arabia (and other Moslem states) received after OPEC was formed and oil prices increased in the 1970s. This led to some unsurprising but ultimately tragic moves by newly wealthy Arabs who continued providing cash, and their own sons, to new Islamic terrorist organization. This all began because Sunni Islam is what the majority (over 80 percent) of Moslems practice and in Arabia itself (where Islam first appeared in the 7th century) the locals believe they are more Islamic than other Moslems. After all, the Koran was written in Arabic and all the founders of Islam were Arabs. Yet for over a thousand years there has been a tradition of different factions in Arabia trying outdo each other to prove who is “more Islamic” than each other. This led to constant fighting and suppression of new ideas. One of those fanatic factions is the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis, who first appeared in the 18th century, are very conservative and very hostile to non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Sunni.
This meant little to the non-Moslem world until lots of oil wealth appeared in Arabia after World War II. Suddenly it became possible for Moslems to show how pious they were by funding Wahhabi missionaries who went to other Moslem (and many non-Moslem) nations and to preach, establish Wahhabi religious schools and mosques and create the current Islamic terrorism problem. Billions were (and still are) spent on this and the policy of getting the young boys into these free religious schools and turning many of them into hateful (towards anyone not like them) Islamic religious fanatics led to a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the late 20th century. Saddam Hussein had kept this out of Iraq until 1991. Many secular rules of Moslem countries (like Syria and Libya) had also resisted the Wahhabi missionaries and money.
The Wahhabi problem is most obvious in Saudi Arabia, which practiced what it preached. Saudis comprise the largest faction of ISIL and al Qaeda recruits because so many Saudis have been educated in Wahhabi run schools. The Saudi rulers control the clergy, to a point, and do not allow public expressions of anti-Saudi Islamic radical ideas. But many Saudis back ISIL goals (which include replacing the Saudi monarchy), even is many of them do not wish to live under ISIL rule. This ideological mess is something Arab rulers, particularly in Saudi Arabia, have been dealing with since Saudi Arabia was formed in the 1920s. Change comes slowly in religious matters but meanwhile religious zealots Arab oil wealth has paid to create threaten us all.
The War on Terror that was declared after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America soon evolved into a Moslem civil war between those (mainly Islamic terrorists) who want a worldwide religious dictatorship run by themselves, versus those representing the majority of Moslems who are getting tired of being threatened and murdered by Moslem religious fanatics. Moslems do not like to discuss this problem openly and especially not with non-Moslems. But the newly developed global media (satellite TV) and communications (the Internet) made it impossible to keep the nasty secret hidden. Soon Moslems were talking about the problem in their own media but still resisted admitting anything was wrong to non-Moslems. In fact it is still popular in Moslem nations to blame the West for the creation of al Qaeda, ISIL and other Islamic terror groups. How anyone, especially a Moslem, could believe this is lost on most Westerners. But this sort of fantasy has long been popular in Islamic countries.
This religious radicalism has always been around because Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building through most of the 20th century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt local governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. These past outbreaks were usually over before the rest of the world even heard about them.
The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. There are already more condemnations of Islamic radicals by Islamic clerics and media in Moslem nations. These changes have not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived. This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend; a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend have become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record.
Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are (and always have been) fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of needed support and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American invasion of Iraq could be seen as clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems. The sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling. When ISIL showed up a decade later the same pattern repeated itself.
Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered by Moslems as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam") and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian and non-Moslem neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. Thus the current spike in deaths is not due so much to more Islamic terrorism but because ISIL has taken control of territory in Syria and Iraq and is waging conventional military operations to defend and expand it. Same situation in Nigeria with Boko Haram.
The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from many small wars that get little media attention outside their region. Some of the underreported wars are not so little. While causalities from international terrorism are relatively few, the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise over 80 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere and at any time, putting a much larger population potentially in harm's way, and the more numerous potential victims are unhappy with that prospect. In the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality. In fact, casualties from terrorist attacks were declining before ISIL and Boko Haram gave them a momentary boost. Most of the victims are in Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where Islamic terrorists have been operating for decades. In all of these places, except for Afghanistan, Islamic terrorism related deaths were down in 2015.
There are a lot of people dying from armed and organized (sort of) violence word-wide. But most of this violence involved one, or both sides operating as armed civilians. One of the bloodiest of these irregular conflicts is the one going on in Mexico, where drug gangs battle over who shall control the lucrative drug smuggling routes into the United States. Most of the killings are done by drug gang gunmen in civilian clothes. The death toll is over 85,000 since 2007. That's right up there with the wars that get a lot more media coverage (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan and Somalia). That's no accident, as the Mexican drug war includes a lot of violence against the media, mainly local print and electronic outlets. The drug gangs don't want any unfavorable coverage and are willing to kill those who dare to say unkind things. This is common in many of the wars where one, or both sides are basically outlaws and able to do as they please.
Despite the growing military power of China, and the saber rattling from Russia, the major military powers continue the Great Nuclear Truce (GNT) that began in the 1950s, when Russia got nuclear weapons, and suddenly realized they could not afford to use them without risking more destruction than past foes like the Nazis, French or Mongols inflicted. As more countries got nukes, the "we can't afford to use them, but they're nice to have" attitude, and the unprecedented truce, persisted. There have been wars, but not between the big players (who have the largest and most destructive conventional forces). Thus a record was broken in 1986, as there had never before (since the modern state system developed in the 16th century) been so long a period without a war between a major powers (the kind that could afford, these days, to get nukes). Since the Cold War ended in 1991 there have been fewer wars (in the traditional sense).
The down side is a lot more low level conflicts (rebellions, civil wars) but overall a lot less death and destruction. Most people are unaware of this situation, because the mass media never made a lot of the GNT, it was something that was just there and not worth reporting. Besides, "nukes (bombs, power plants, medicine) are evil" sells if you are in the news business. Calling any incident, with a lot of gunfire and a few dead bodies, a "war" has also been misleading. The fact is, worldwide violence has been declining since the end of the Cold War and the elimination of Russian subsidies and encouragement for pro-communist (or simply pro-Russia or just anti-West) rebels and terrorists. The media also has a hard time keeping score. For years, Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed and the war was won. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention, and that story is still poorly covered. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban, and triumph of the drug gangs, go unreported or distorted. However, if you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges. So take sensational reporting of the “Chinese threat” with a bit of skepticism.
Most current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism and other forms of radical socialism) that still resonate among people who don't know about the dismal track records of these creeds. Iran has replaced some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. That keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that's it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.
The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings were mostly about corruption and the resulting massive poverty. For that reason, the Saudi Arabian monarchy was able to buy its way out of an uprising. Yemen mutated into low level civil war that escalated in 2015 while Syria grew slowly into a countrywide civil war. Egypt and Tunisia were over quickly, but subsequent elections put new people in power and left most of the corruption alone. In Egypt the military was able to maintain its corrupt grip on the economy and eased out the elected Islamic conservatives who threatened the generals. The biggest problem was that these dictatorships the Arab Spring opposed were not just the single dictator, but that segment of the population that kept the dictator in power. The supporters were usually numerous and were well rewarded for that and were not eager to flee or give up their wealth. The dictator's supporters are striving to retain or regain their power and often succeeding. The Old Order has substantial economic and political resources and is willing to use them to retain power and wealth.
Current wars are listed in alphabetical orders. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details.
The Taliban believed that the Afghan security forces would fall apart in 2015 because most of the foreign troops were gone and those that were left were not fighting. All but about 20,000 foreign troops and contractors are gone and Afghans are responsible for security throughout the country. The expected Taliban victory did not happen but there was a lot more Taliban violence. The Afghan soldiers and police stood and fought, but took heavy casualties. Not as heavy as the Taliban but heavy enough to worry foreign advisors. The foreigners were thinking of casualties in Western terms. Afghanistan is a more violent place in the best of times. Faced with defeat Afghans traditionally simply withdraw and wait, for years, decades or generations, for another opportunity. By the end of 2015 new tactics had been developed that reduced government casualties and increased those of the Taliban. This worked because the West sent more intelligence, aerial recon and warplane resources. Thus 2016 shapes up to be a better year for the government forces and worse for the Taliban. It’s not just the more lethal than expected security forces the Taliban have to worry about but a civil war within the Taliban as factions struggle over who should be supreme leader. A lesser, but also lethal problem is the growing presence of ISIL, which has declared war on the Taliban. Presidential elections in 2014 managed to find someone to replace anti-American and erratic Hamid Karzai. What made this work was the election of the Pushtun candidate. This led to some anti-corruption efforts and renewed pledges to defeat the Taliban, if only to lessen the risk of another civil war between Pushtuns (and among Pushtun factions) and the other ethnic groups (who are 60 percent of the population but much less violent than the Pushtuns). Meanwhile what most Afghans consider the biggest threat to be the drug gangs. These gangs, largely run and staffed by Pushtun, want to create a heroin producing Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Central Asia. If you want to know how that works out, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia during the last decade. No one has come up with any cheap, fast or easy solution for that. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned about tribal issues than anything else. Ten percent of the population, mostly living in the cities and often working with the foreigners, believes in Afghanistan the country. But beyond the city limits, it's a very different Afghanistan that is currently motivated by growing prosperity brought on by a decade relative peace and the persistent “traditional” violence. By Afghan standards, an unprecedented amount of cash has come into the country since September 11, 2001. Between economic growth, the growing heroin sales, and foreign aid, plus lower losses from violence, it's been something of a Golden Age. This despite decades of war. For example, it's often forgotten that the 1990s civil war was still active on September 11, 2001. The Taliban (or, more accurately, Pushtun religious nationalists from the southwest) have been trying to make a comeback ever since. The key Taliban financial resource; heroin in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, has been under heavy attack since 2009. The poppy (the source of opium and heroin) crop has been hammered by drought and disease, growing competition from Burmese heroin and drug gang income has suffered. More Taliban factions are negotiating some kind of settlement with the government. In other words, everything is pretty normal by Afghan standards. Afghanistan has become politically unpopular in the West and the easiest way out (for Western politicians) is to get out and let their successors deal with the aftermath. Afghanistan has become another can foreign leaders are “kicking down the road.”
The Arab Spring made only a slight impact here. Many locals are still traumatized by the 1990s war against Islamic terrorists, which is still not completely over. But the anger is growing because of decades of inept dictatorship. There are few Islamic radicals left in Algeria and the security forces spend most of their time along the Tunisian, Libyan and Mali borders dealing with terrorists coming or going to those places. Over the last decade most of the Algerian Islamic terrorists were killed, captured, or ran off to Europe, or south into the desert and across the southern borders into Black Africa. Many of those showed up in Mali during 2012, where a lot of them were killed by the French counter-offensive in early 2013. That operation also did a lot of damage to the al Qaeda smuggling gangs that have been moving South American cocaine north for several years. The remaining Islamic terrorists in Algeria have few secure hiding places left. Despite the large area of uninhabited mountains and forests along the eastern coast, the police and army have been operating there for so long that it's difficult to stay hidden. Too many civilians are hostile to Islamic radicalism, and will phone in a tip via the growing cell phone network. Algeria has become a very dangerous place for Islamic terrorists. Algerian Islamic radicals tried to capitalize on the Arab Spring unrest in neighboring Tunisia and Libya. But in both those countries, the popular uprising was against the local dictators and for democracy, not for Islamic radicalism. Islamic political parties were popular, but not Islamic radicals. The uprisings in Tunisia and Libya weakened the local security forces, and made it easier for Islamic radicals to move around and recruit. Algeria increased its border security and has had to deal with more Islamic terrorist just across the border in Tunisia and Libya. Many expect another, and larger, Arab Spring in Algeria eventually but so far the geriatric government is making concessions and trying to reform itself. This is delaying another revolution not preventing it.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections as needed. There is some Islamic terrorist activity there and the usual border disputes and crippling corruption.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly. There will still be coverage as needed. Efforts to get some serious Islamic terrorist activity going has failed so far. Most of the nations involved used to be part of the Soviet Union and still have effective secret police and local dictators to encourage ruthless suppression of any dissent. People are putting up with it, so far.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. Chad has even become a major supplier of peacekeepers throughout Africa, especially in Nigeria against Boko Haram. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections or in its own section if unrest reappears inside Chad.
China continues its aggressive territorial claims and risking war with its neighbors. North Korea, despite being a long-time ally, has now become a growing, and increasingly public, problem. The North Koreans openly defied China one time too many and in late 2014 and China publicly let it be known that North Korea could no longer depend on Chinese aid if North Korea got involved in another war. North Korea has since gotten closer to Russia. China is not happy with having an unstable nuclear power as a neighbor but doesn’t want to invade or stage a coup to fix the mess, not yet anyway. Russia is less concerned about the risks of working with North Korea. Meanwhile, in the South China Sea China has embraced the idea that this entire area is not international waters, or the property of the nearest country, but part of China. This violates international agreements on such matters but China disagrees and is becoming more aggressive enforcing these claims. China is using the “death by a thousand cuts” approach, constantly pushing other nations away from disputed rocks and reefs and threatening worse if anyone tries drilling for oil or gas in these offshore waters. China is applying the same tactics against India along their 4,000 kilometer land border. Meanwhile there are growing problems at home, where corruption and its side effects pollution and inept government have caused growing anger among a better educated and wealthier public. This has caused the government to introduce additional reforms and many more prosecutions of corrupt officials. But at the same time the government also prosecutes anti-corruption activists who do not work for the government. The corruption is more of a problem in part because growing success in using the Internet for espionage did not translate into the ability to establish sufficient control over Internet use within China. The government has been unable to create a new domestic information monopoly (as existed in the pre-cell phone/Internet days). Bad news gets out and causes growing unrest. There are thousands of large protests, some of them mutating into riots, each year, and some towns are openly rebelling. It's all because of an unelected government run by communists who no longer believe in communism. The growing corruption taints everything. For example, military reforms are crippled by corruption and energetic government efforts to clean it up constantly fail. Until quite recently the official government anti-corruption efforts only prosecuted low level operators while the biggest (and most senior) offenders continued doing the most damage with the least risk. That changed in 2013 with more senior officials being prosecuted and the word going out for the most senior officials to show more restraint when it comes to corruption. These prosecution continued into 2015 but most of those prosecuted were those who were greedy, sloppy and too visible. These officials, including some very senior ones, are being taken down to the delight of most Chinese. Meanwhile China continues its long-range plan to be a military superpower. World class weapons are planned for the future, during the 2020s and 2030s. Every year China offers new weapons to the world market that are visibly more advanced. The actual performance of Chinese military technology is suspect as much of it is based on Russian stuff. During the Cold War Russian weapons always seemed to be what the losers used. A lot of this new Chinese military tech is aimed at India. The diplomatic and military rivalry between China and India becomes more obvious, and dangerous. China is mainly concerned about its trade routes through the Indian Ocean. The confrontation with Taiwan continues to subside, replaced by kind words and gracious lies, along with increases in trade and commerce. Some Chinese suspect that the plan now is to buy Taiwan piece by piece and the Taiwanese respond by purchasing more weapons, determined to resist. The world is seeing more Chinese in peacekeeping missions as well as growing Chinese threats to peace. The bottom line however is keeping the communist dictatorship in power and that may be the ultimate reason for China avoiding war.
Peace talks with the major leftist rebel group FARC concluded with the recent compromise on amnesty. FARC insisted on amnesty and had to settle for less because most Colombians want the most violent FARC men punished. The second largest leftist rebel group (ELN, a third the size of FARC) now wants to talk peace as well. After nearly half a century of violence, leftist rebels have rapidly lost support, recruits and territory since 2000. The drug gangs and leftist rebels have merged in many parts of the country, and the war in increasingly about money, not ideology. The leftist rebels are definitely fading but all that drug money can keep some of them in the game for quite a while even though most of the cocaine production has moved to Peru (but is now moving back). Many of the leftists are disillusioned and it is becoming harder to recruit new gunmen who are not just mercenary killers. Next door in Venezuela the country moved closer to civil war and economic collapse until recent parliamentary elections made it clear that most Venezuelans were fed up the ideas of radical populist president Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013 after he had trashed the Venezuelan economy and democracy. His handpicked replacement was even worse. The old Chavez dream of Venezuela becoming a socialist dictatorship supported by oil revenue rapidly faded along with cash reserves and the national credit rating. While Venezuela is now looking forward to reconstruction (rather than civil war) under a non-socialist government Colombia continues to prosper and reduce drug gang and leftist rebel violence.
The UN, having tried everything else, finally authorized a special “combat brigade” of peacemakers in 2013. This brigade was given a license to kill, and kill as often as needed to eliminate the last few rogue militias operating in the east. This appears to have solved many of the peacekeeping problems out there, but not the fact that Congo has returned to being a one party dictatorship based on corruption and exploiting ethnic divisions. Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the eastern border area, perpetuating the bloodiest (and least reported) war of the 21st century (about six million dead). There is similar, but less intense unrest in other parts of the country (especially the separatist minded southwest). The Congolese government finds it cannot (and to a certain extent, will not) cope with the continuing corruption and lack of order in the east and southwest. The reason is money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. Meanwhile UN peacekeepers in general continue to be criticized for not fighting more, but that’s not their job. Setting up a special brigade of peacemaker combat troops was not easy and while it worked it is only one brigade. Getting the Congolese army in shape for heavy combat is even more difficult, and the result may never be up to the standards of non-African forces. This is especially true when the most effective army commanders are often accused of war crimes. The reality is that most rebels do not seek to overthrow the national government but rather remain in control of much of the border areas and the economic riches there. Meanwhile, the inept and corrupt government creates more anger than contentment, setting the stage for another civil war. The current president is preoccupied with his effort to change the constitution so he can legally become president-for-life via endless rigged elections. The population is not eager for more violence, not after endless mayhem since the mid-1990s. Congo remains mired in deadly chaos while much of the rest of the world gets organized and achieves a much better standard of living. Elsewhere in Central Africa the Burundi civil war threatens to reignite because the current president is trying to defy the constitution and become president-for-life. In the Central African Republic years of chaos (following the overthrow of a corrupt and incompetent dictator) has evolved into another Moslem versus Christian (and non-Moslems in general) conflict.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections, mainly Somalia.
Islamic terrorist violence was way down in 2015, but that came at a cost. In 2014 a recently elected Pakistani civilian government finally got the Pakistani military to go after the terrorist sanctuary of North Waziristan. The military was pressured to do this in part by the increasingly Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan often by Islamic terrorists based in North Waziristan. This offensive succeeded in killing over 3,400 Islamic terrorists (at a loss of about 500 soldiers) so far and sent many more Islamic terrorists running for sanctuary in eastern Afghanistan and other parts of Pakistan (especially elsewhere in the tribal territories as well as the city of Karachi). It was no surprise that the army did not move to destroy Islamic terror groups that only attacked foreign nations (like Afghanistan and India). This has contributed to growing hostility towards the military within Pakistan. This backlash began in 2011 when a U.S. raid into Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden. This angered many Pakistanis because it showed that the generals had lied about their involvement with sheltering bin Laden. It also made it clear that the military was unable to detect of stop the "invading Americans", or stop local Islamic radicals from later carrying out "revenge attacks" that left hundreds dead. This led to a continuing series of confrontations between the Pakistani military and the civilian government and growing hostility towards the economic and political power of the military. In response the generals created more confrontations with India. This merely increased Indian anger at Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile India further diminished the Pakistani military by announcing that China was the main enemy now, with Pakistan fading fast. After the Mumbai terrorist attacks in late 2008, India pressured Pakistan to quit playing media games and get serious about anti-Indian Islamic terrorists (created and sustained by the Pakistani military) based in Pakistan. This caused a struggle within the Pakistani government over how to deal with Islamic radicalism and their own armed forces. Meanwhile India has to deal with religious (Islamic) separatists in Kashmir, plus tribal rebels in the northeast, and Maoist (communist) ones in between. In 2010, India launched a large offensive against the Maoists, a war they expect to take several years to finish and, not surprisingly, is proceeding slowly but successfully. Nevertheless India has been successful at reducing the violence from leftists in eastern India, tribal separatists in the northeast and Pakistan based Islamic terrorists in the northwest (Kashmir). Pakistan has much more serious (and bloody) internal unrest with Islamic radicals in the north and rebellious Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border. The Taliban had become stronger in Pakistan, where it originated, than in Afghanistan. The 2014 offensive into North Waziristan reduced Islamic terrorism violence in Pakistan by about half. Meanwhile the Pakistani economy is becoming more dependent on Chinese investment. Moslem Bangladesh, which broke away from being part of Pakistan in 1971 has no such Islamic radical problem (leftist rebels are the major troublemakers). India and Pakistan both have nukes, making escalation a potential catastrophe. As a result recent peace talks have lowered the possibility of war but both sides continue an arms race. There are still a lot of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the “there is a Western conspiracy to destroy Islam and we must fight it” view of the world. Pakistan needs help, but mostly from Pakistanis as the ills that torment Pakistan can only be resolved from within.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly. There will still be coverage as needed, mostly about counter-terrorism efforts (quite successful so far).
In July 2015 Iran got a treaty that would lift the many sanctions it operates under. That won’t solve the current cash crises because Saudi Arabia triggered a massive (more than 70 percent) drop of the price of oil in 2013. That, plus all the new economic sanctions in 2012 resulted in more inflation and unemployment. Iran is busy trying to comply with the July treaty to get the sanctions lifted in 2016. Even then international economists believe it will be two years or more before the Iranian economy gets moving again. Still unresolved is the other problem that bothers Iranians; an Islamic conservative minority with veto power over any attempts at reform from within. Independent reformers are considered enemies of the state by the ruling clerics. Most Iranians just want a better life. There are some more complications. Half the population consists of ethnic minorities (mainly Turks, Kurds and Arabs), and some of these groups (Arabs, Kurds and Baluchis) are getting more restive and violent (for different reasons). Meanwhile, the Islamic conservatives are determined to support terrorism overseas and build nuclear weapons at home, rather than concentrating on improving the economy and living standards. Expensive efforts to aid pro-Iran groups in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon have worked but at the cost of popular support inside Iran. The government sees these foreign adventures as a way to distract an unhappy population but too many Iranians see through that and it just increases the popular anger. The nukes are still important because Iran has been increasingly vocal about how Iran should be the leader of the Islamic world and the guardian of the major Islamic shrines (Mecca and Medina) in Saudi Arabia. Iranians believe that having nukes would motivate the Arabs to bow down. The Arabs have been kicked around by the Iranians for thousands of years and take this latest threat very seriously.
In 2015 the government halted and pushed back the ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) offensive that began in early 2014. This is part of a larger problem as Iraq is caught in the middle of a century’s old civil war between Sunni and Shia Moslems that is also part of an Arab effort to challenge thousands of years of Iranian dominance in the region. The current crises began after all American troops left at the end of 2010. At that point Islamic terrorists were considered a police problem until suddenly they weren’t in June 2014. That was when the security forces (army and police) fell apart in Mosul. The widespread corruption and mismanagement the government created or tolerated in their military led to a collapse of many units. This in turn led to the government losing control of the third largest city (Mosul) and a Sunni terrorist advance on Baghdad. This was halted and by late 2014 the counteroffensive was slowly under way. But in May 2015 incompetent officers again led to a major city (Ramadi in Anbar) being taken by ISIL. At the end of 2015 ISIL was under a lot of pressure but is defeated in Ramadi and under siege in Mosul. The extent of the ISIL threat (and weakness of the Shia government) became obvious after ISIL occupied Mosul in June 2014. The government called in Iran to help out. The cause of all this mayhem is diehard Sunni Arabs who refuse to accept democracy and Shia domination. Another problem is growing terrorist support from Sunni Arabs elsewhere in the region who fear growing Iranian efforts to spread Shia Islam via Iraq. Shia politicians found it convenient to exploit the intense hatred the majority (60 percent of Iraqis are Shia and 20 percent Kurd) feel for the Sunni Arab minority. Iraqi Sunni terrorists got a big boost from the 2011 uprising in Syria, which was led by the Sunni Arab majority there (against the ruling Shia Arab minority). Iraqi Sunni Arabs enthusiastically aided the Syrian rebels and eventually formed a faction (ISIL) dominated by Iraqi Sunnis. ISIL was more ruthless and appealed to hard core Islamic terrorists, especially foreigners and because of that that grew to be major threat in both Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi government was officially neutral (but actually doing much of what Iran asked to support the Syrian government). Meanwhile there were growing tensions between the Kurds in the north (over northern oil fields) and the Arab majority. That was put aside (temporarily) after Mosul fell to the ISIL and the Kurds moved in and grabbed nearby Kirkuk (and its oil fields). The Kurds have since shown themselves the most competent and reliable military force in Iraq. By late 2015 the Kurds were advancing on Mosul with the support of their main backer (the United States) along with a coalition of NATO and Arab countries who provide air support. The Kurds were better prepared for war and the oil money is very important to preserving their autonomy. Less corrupt than the Arabs, the Kurds are the one group in Iraq the West can depend on. Moreover the Kurds don't trust the Arabs. To make matters worse for the Iraqi government, Turkey backs, or at least tolerates, the Kurds. The Turks don’t trust the Arabs either. Considering the current situation in Iraq, most Iraqis don’t trust Iraq either.
In late 2015 Fatah (the Palestinian group that rules the West Bank) got another terror campaign against Israel going by convincing many Palestinians that Israel was threatening to seize the “Dome of the Rock” in Jerusalem. This was a complete fabrication but Fatah was able to convince hundreds of Palestinians to make suicidal attacks on Israelis using rocks, kitchen knives or vehicles. So far 22 Israelis have been killed, but so have about six times as many Palestinians. Fatah declares this a success but a recent opinion poll in the West Bank indicates most Palestinians would not vote Fatah back into power again. There are unlikely to be any elections because Fatah and Hamas (the more radical group that controls Gaza) cannot agree and are spending more effort attacking each other than in going after Israelis.
Hamas lost its 50 Day War with Israel in July-August 2014, although they declared it a victory anyway. Hamas remains dedicated to destroying Israel and that rocket stockpile (built by smuggling Iranian rockets in for years) is the only thing that gives Hamas any credibility as a threat to Israel. Despite that Hamas has growing problems with smaller and more radical Islamic terror groups challenging their authority. The 50 Day War proved Israel was better prepared to deal with the rocket barrage than Hamas expected. This was bad news as Hamas needs all the respect it can get in the Arab world because it is losing popular support in Gaza where its 1.6 million Palestinian subjects are angry at not being able to vote Hamas out of power and being forced to submit to more and more Islamic lifestyle rules. Neither Palestinian faction is interested in real peace talks with Israel. That's because Palestinian leaders continue to preach endless war against Israel and destruction of the Jewish state. Any peace deal is seen as a stepping stone towards that ultimate goal. Some Palestinians keep trying to make any kind of peace, in order to reverse the economic disaster they brought on themselves as a result of their old (begun in 2000) terror campaign against Israel. Polls show that Palestinians are tired of terrorism even though they still support it in order to destroy Israel, which remains an article of faith among Palestinians. Meanwhile Egypt has undergone another revolution with a military coup ousting the elected Islamic Brotherhood government and elections in early 2014 putting another general in power. The Islamic Brotherhood managed to make itself very unpopular in only a few months by breaking campaign promises and moving to turn Egypt into a religious dictatorship. Despite the 2013 coup Islamic terrorists remain active and the Moslem Brotherhood threatens to join them. The Moslem Brotherhood was outlawed by the end of 2013 and Egypt continues to have a hard time returning to normal, much less reforming the government and economy. Most of the terrorist violence in Egypt is coming from groups based in Sinai and Gaza. For that reason Egypt has isolated Gaza even more and sent thousands of additional soldiers and police into northern Sinai. While the Arabs have endless problems the Israeli economy prospers partly because of a very effective counter-terrorism campaign. This annoys Arabs most of all and a growing number of Arab countries not only increased their unofficial ties with Israel but in early 2015 admitted such relationships existed and have even allowed Israel to establish official trade offices in Abu Dhabi. Much of this has to do with cooperating against mutual enemy Iran, but there is also a growing consensus that Israel is not going away and much effort is being wasted in trying to make that happen. Iran will always be an enemy of the Arabs and, after all, Arabs and Israelites are all Semites. This has also resulted in Turkey seeking to restore diplomatic and other relations with Israel.
North Korea is undergoing an increasingly visible revolution. This has resulted in more obedience to China and eagerness to really make peace with South Korea. Still, the north remains a mess and the scene of accelerating change. The changes are being led by new entrepreneur class (called donju), which has created unprecedented (for North Korea) visible signs of luxury living. Even tourists can see more restaurants, hard currency stores (containing foreign goods), luxury bathhouses and beauty salons for those (mainly donju) who can afford it. The donju class now includes at least a million people (four percent of the population up north) and is growing fast. The donju have already surpassed the North Korean ruling class in terms of buying power and the government officials don’t mind as long as they get a cut. Students of Western history (Kim Jong Un was educated in the West) know this is how the Western monarchies lost their power. But Kim also knows how to get a large share of the new wealth for himself. He demands a cut of the bribes and this is delivered by more frequent calls for “loyalty gifts” from officials. This increasingly causes unrest because many officials will get the money from people they have power over rather than from their own personal resources (recently received bribes). This causes popular anger and unless Kim does something about it he will eventually have to answer for it. This sort of thing is much less of a problem in China because entrepreneurs often became government officials and vice versa. Adopting Chinese at all is still unpopular with the North Korean leadership and China keeps reminding North Korea that ignoring the obvious will not end well. Despite the potential threats from the growing donju class the current Kim (Kim Jong Un) has encouraged market economy activity if it directly benefits his government. Thus the economy (GDP) is now growing, especially if you include the illegal (and difficult to count) economic activity. As welcome as this is to most North Koreans there is still the problem with comparisons with South Korea, where the average citizen makes at least fifteen times more than the average northerner. Thus without any public comment North Korea has quietly accepted much of the Chinese advice on economic reforms. Many North Korean leaders are still nervous about what threat, if any, this poses to their power. China advises keeping the donju happy and keeping them close. That has worked for China and it should work for North Korea. So far it seems to be. The big problem is the corruption and officials who demand so many bribes that it causes more hunger and poverty for most North Koreans. China urges North Korea to do something about the corruption that cripples the economy and much else in North Korea. China points to its own success in this area as measured by the Transparency International ranking of corruption. In 2014 China moved up four places (to 100) in the rankings of 177 countries. In 2013 China moved up 20 places. Number one (Denmark) is the least corrupt and 175 (Somalia and North Korea in a tie) is the most. North Korea knows it has a big corruption problem and China is offering workable solutions that many in the northern leadership continue to resist. China also points out that corruption takes an enormous toll on the armed forces. North Korea has long ignored this but now, with the United States and South Korea openly discussing how poverty and corruption combined to cripple the North Korean military, attacking corruption is the most affordable way for North Korea to reverse the rot. North Korea cannot continue starving the economy to keep the massive military going and it is no secret inside North Korea that the military is now as powerful as it used to be.
This area had become quieter after 2003 and we no longer cover it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections like Iraq, Israel and Syria. The 2011 Arab Spring movement changed all that and the Kurds are once more at war.
The past has caught up with Libya and the “country” is still being torn apart by a civil war. In 2015 that civil war went from a two way (Islamic radical groups versus more moderate ones) to three way (with the addition of the ultra-radical ISIL). By the end of 2015 the UN had gotten the two major coalitions to agree to a merger that is supposed to take place in early 2016. The success of this peace deal is very critical. The mess came in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution overthrew longtime dictator Moamar Kaddafi but it did not change the tribalism that Kaddafi used for decades to keep potential threats from replacing him. It was only when most of the tribes (and two-thirds of the population) united to overthrow Kaddafi that his divide and rule technique failed. Since 2011 the tribes have been out to grab what they can. By early 2015 most tribes had joined the UN recognized elected government in Tobruk. The previous selected (to arrange elections and write a constitution) council in Tripoli staged a coup after the 2014 elections and, backed by many Islamic conservative groups, declared itself still the government. In 2015 many pro-Tripoli Islamic terror militias declared allegiance to ISIL and soon both Tripoli and Tobruk governments had formed an uneasy anti-ISIL alliance. Through all this oil exports have shrunk and the Central Bank cash reserves are shrinking to nothing. If peace and unity are not achieved soon the government will no longer be able to import food and other essentials. Even by Middle Eastern standards Libya is setting a new records in self-destructive behavior.
A final peace deal with the rebellious Tuareg in the north was finally agreed to and signed in early 2015 and is holding. Despite that Islamic terrorism is spreading to the more populous south but not to the extent that it threatens government control. The Tuareg peace deal was stalled for over a year because the black majority in the south did not want to grant as much autonomy as the Tuaregs demanded. The two groups have always been at odds but were only united in the same country by the colonial French in the 19th century. Like most African countries, dividing the nation is not considered an option and the colonial borders are considered sacrosanct. The current mess began when France took swift action in January 2013 and led an operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this operation is expected to continue for years. The French acted because in 2012 Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The army mutinied (because of lack of support from the corrupt government) down south and took over, but backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene. T
he thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 15 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of violence there has halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities) and the movement of many goods. Al Qaeda, better financed and more fanatic, soon took over from the tribal rebels. The Tuareg rebels had objected to the imposition of Islamic law, but the Islamic radical gunmen drove the Tuareg fighters out of the cities and large towns. There were only about 2,000 Islamic terrorists up north during 2012 when they declared the area a sanctuary and base for Islamic radicals. Then the few thousand Tuareg rebels began negotiating with the Mali government about cooperation. The UN approved an invasion of the north by a force of about 7,000 troops, with half from Mali and half from neighboring countries. France agreed to lead a NATO effort to train, equip, supply and support the invaders. The invasion was supposed to take place in late 2013, but France concluded that even this might be too ambitious for an African force and decided to act largely alone in January 2013. This was triggered in part by al Qaeda efforts to invade southern Mali in addition to setting up terrorist training camps in the north. The bold French move paid off, although Mali still has internal problems (mainly corruption) and an unhappy Tuareg majority in the north. A lot depends on whether the majority in the south can reduce corruption and deal fairly with the Tuaregs and other minorities (like Arabs) in the north. The elected Mali government is back in power but appears to be as corrupt as ever and under growing pressure from donor nations to either clean up the corruption or see most of the aid disappear.
Government efforts to reduce drug cartel violence and crime has been much more successful than doing what the public wants the most; reducing corruption. After 2012 the newly elected government quietly backtracked on its promises to halt the war on drug gangs. This change of attitude occurred when it because obvious that there was a real need for this “war”. This could be seen out in the countryside where growing drug gang violence led to the formation of many armed militias, who confronted the local cartel gunmen and invite them to either fight or leave. Noting the success of the militias the government eventually made them legitimate and no longer considers them outlaws. On the downside the success of these militias also brought unwelcome (for the government) attention to the corruption of government and police out in the countryside. The militias were as much a protest against corruption as they were against drug cartel activity. Moreover the extent of the militia movement also made it clear how the cartel violence was not a nationwide threat while corruption was. Nearly all the cartel violence (which accounts for three percent of all crime) occurs in under five percent of the 2,500 municipalities. But the often spectacular Cartel War violence gets the headlines, making it appear that the entire country is aflame. Because so much of the violence is on the U.S. border it seems to Americans that Mexico is a war zone. The end of one-party rule in 2000, the subsequent growth of drug gangs and increasing corruption in the security forces has triggered unprecedented levels of violence and unrest in the areas involved. The non-PRI government eventually went to war with the drug gangs, and the outcome is still in doubt. The PRI (the party that controlled the government for most of the 20th century until finally eased out by reformers in 2000) got back in power in 2012 and promised changes, but has found that determination is more needed than change. PRI also discovered that corruption (much of it perfected over 70 years when PRI controlled power) was THE big issue for all Mexicans. The cartel violence was a minority concern. Worse the newly elected PRI government was soon being accused of bringing back the old PRI corruption. Now there is fear that the decades old PRI support for corruption is back in play. PRI has had to pay more attention to popular demands for less corruption and that will not be easy because the corruption is deeply entrenched and widespread.
Big changes are afoot. The first nationwide elections since 1990 (when the generals refused to accept the results and banned any more voting) were held in early November. The anti-military coalition won enough votes to change the constitution and the military said it would accept the vote. Despite the return to democracy in 2010 the most corrupt institution in Burma is still the military and that can be seen in how the 2010 constitution that returned democracy explicitly granted military leaders (including all the retired officers) immunity from prosecution for past crimes. The military was also given control of the defense ministry and a fixed number (25 percent) of seats in parliament. In effect, the military leaders who once ran the country are still in charge of the defense budget and immune from prosecution for all the crimes they committed in the past. The recent elections means that real reform, like changing this pro-military constitution, are now a possibility. Even before the November election, reforms were slowly being made despite the fact that the 2010 elections replaced the military dictatorship with many of the same people, out of uniform and trying to hide the fact that they rigged the vote. Any new government has to deal with the continuing rebellions of the rural tribes in the north. In 2015 China was threatening to intervene if Chinese investments in the tribal north were not protected and allowed to resume operating. In response Burma began depending more on India to help with security in the north and some protection from Chinese threats. Temporary peace deals were made but the tribal rebels are still producing major quantities of methamphetamine, and increasing amounts of heroin, to support continued fighting. China is not happy with many of these drugs (particularly heroin and meth) coming into China. That is difficult to change because the tribes are poor and the drug money is very attractive. China is also concerned with the popular opposition to major Chinese economic projects (dams and pipeline) in the north but the fundamentals remain the same. The government has also done little to suppress a 2013 outbreak in anti-Moslem violence. Overall, economic and political progress is slow but there has been regular progress despite the continued problems with the military.
A group of Taliban wannabes (Boko Haram) in the north grew rapidly in 2014 and the government finally mustered sufficient military strength in 2015 to cripple but not destroy the threat. This did not get much media attention outside Africa, even though in 2014 Boko Haram killed more people than ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) in Syria and Iraq. The main cause of Boko Haram gains was corruption in the army, which severely crippled army effectiveness. While a major army counteroffensive in early 2013 chased Boko Haram out of urban and suburban bases in the three northeast states they were are most active in, surviving Boko Haram members set up operations in the mountain forests along the Cameroon border and concentrated on taking control of the countryside. This they did throughout 2014. Desperate, the government employed South African mercenaries and troops from neighboring countries to again crush Boko Haram in early 2015. By itself Boko Haram is too small to have much impact on a national scale but the inability to deal with this problem puts a spotlight on the corruption that has hobbled all progress in Nigeria for decades. Throughout 2015 there was yet another major shakeup in the army leadership (the one in 2013 made little difference). Senior leaders who were not getting results were replaced, with the implication that the new commanders would lose their jobs if they did not make significant progress against the Islamic terrorists in the northeast. The government has also quietly let commanders know that one sign of failure (and cause for demotion or dismissal) is civilian casualties. Nigerian soldiers and police have long been infamous for their casual attitude towards civilian casualties. This was always a cause for popular animosity against the security forces and with the Boko Haram uprising over the last few years the misbehavior, and public anger got worse. A new president (a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and is trying to change the corrupt army culture but it is slow going. Meanwhile Boko Haram is rebuilding and threatening another comeback in 2016. More bad news is expected because of too many tribal divisions, not enough oil money and too much corruption create growing unrest throughout the country. The government continues to placate the ethnic oil gangs and rebels in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta down south) with a 2009 amnesty deal. That worked because, while the gangs were getting organized, and a lot more violent while the government was moving more police and military forces into the region. Most gang members accepted the amnesty rather than take on the armed forces. The amnesty deal did not hold and there are still attacks on oil facilities. It was later discovered that local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business from the disarmed tribal rebels, and the thefts are larger than ever. Meanwhile, the northern Moslems want more control over the federal government (and the oil money). The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars, over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least, more street violence and public anger.
POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS
Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war.
While decades of effort have finally reduced the internal threat of leftist and ethnic rebellions, most Filipinos are more concerned about endemic corruption and the resulting economic stagnation. There is also the Chinese threat, with more Chinese warships showing up in what had been, until recently, unquestionably Filipino coastal waters. Most Filipinos see this as a major threat. The Philippines has joined a coalition with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the United States to oppose the Chinese. The Islamic minority in the south agreed to a 2015 peace deal that gave it more autonomy but not its own country and the expulsion of non-Moslems. The government convinced the separatists to settle for less and the deal is done. Yet this treaty has not been approved by the legislature and may not be because the Christian majority opposes granting the Moslems so much autonomy. This dispute will be resolved in 2016. A smaller communist rebel organization fights on for social justice and a leftist dictatorship, but the government believes the leftists are on the way out. These communists are taking a beating, and now want to negotiate a peace deal. There is one ultra-radical Islamic terrorist group in the south (Abu Sayyaf) that is responsible for most of the kidnappings and terror bombings down there. This group has integrated itself with the clan culture down there and become very difficult to eliminate. The Moslems have, as always, lots of clan feuds and internal violence which will survive the autonomy deal with the government.
Since 2014 Russia has been making a lot of headlines but not much else. The economy is a mess, it has fewer allies and the future looks dim. Russia entered the 21st century with a new elected government dominated by former secret police (KGB) officers who promised to restore economic and civil order. They did so but in the process are turning Russia into a police state with less political and economic freedom. A growing number of Russians opposed this and the government responded by appealing to nationalism. Russia has returned to police state ways and the traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Rather than being run by corrupt communist bureaucrats, the country is now dominated by corrupt businessmen, gangsters and self-serving government officials. The semi-free economy is more productive than the centrally controlled communist one but that just provides more money to steal. A rebellion against the new dictatorship has been derailed by astute propaganda depicting Russia as under siege by the West. Yet opinion polls that show wide popular support for this paranoid fantasy has left enough Russians with democratic impulses to continue leading the struggle for better government and needed reforms. But for now most Russians want economic and personal security and are willing to tolerate a police state to get it. That atmosphere, plus the anxiety generated by the Ukraine aggression has scared away a lot of foreign investors and many Russian ones as well. Russia can downplay this in the state controlled media but without all that foreign and Russian capital the economy cannot grow.
RWANDA & BURUNDI
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections where there are details of the new civil wars brewing here.
Al Shabaab, an Islamic radical group, has been crushed but not completely destroyed. Starting in late 2013 Al Shabaab was driven out of most of the territory it controlled for years but remnants remain in thinly populated areas of central Somalia, the far north (Puntland border) and far south (Kenyan border). There the skirmishing continues and al Shabaab is increasingly active in Kenya. The Somali economy is reviving but it is still a dangerous place to be. The defeated al Shabaab has split into factions and most of the international (pro-al Qaeda) group has seized control of what’s left. Al Shabaab remnants will linger for a while. Many of them now pledge allegiance to al Qaeda or the even more radical ISIL and those two groups’ goal of making terror attacks in non-Moslem nations. Al Shabaab does that in Kenya, but with limited manpower cannot do a lot. The new Somali government, propped up by foreign aid (most of which gets stolen) was forced to elect a permanent government in 2012. Somalia is still a failed state that defies every attempt at nation building. But the situation is worse than it appears because Somalia was never a country, but a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over economic issues (land and water). The country remains an economic and political mess, a black hole on the map. Not much hope in sight. The pirates became a major problem after 2006 and in response the major trading nations launched a counter-piracy effort which since 2012 reduced pirate success (captured ships) considerably. In fact, no large ships have been captured in since early 2012. The northern statelet of Puntland was persuaded (and subsidized) by wealthy seafaring nations to attack the pirate bases. There are not many pirate groups left because of the lack of multi-million dollar ransoms. In the far south (where the second major port, Kismayo is) a third statelet (after Puntland and Somaliland in the north) is trying to form as Jubaland. The UN backed government in the center is trying to prevent this but the problem remains the independent minded clans. There is not a lot of enthusiasm among local leaders for a national government.
An unofficial state of war developed after the south became an independent "South Sudan" in 2011. Although Sudan officially accepted the results of the vote that created South Sudan the battles over disputed border areas continued. Sudan quietly sent troops and pro-government militias to seize disputed border areas. That fighting continues and has been complicated by a 2014 outbreak of civil war between tribal factions in South Sudan. This new conflict continues and is tearing South Sudan apart. Moslems in Sudan tried for decades to suppress separatist tendencies among Christians in the south, and Moslem rebels along the eastern coast and western (non-Arab Darfur) deserts. The oil money in South Sudan is a major cause of the civil strife there and continuing conflict with Sudan. Meanwhile, battles over land in western Sudan (Darfur) continue to pit Arab herders against black Sudanese farmers. Both sides are Moslem, but the government has long backed the Arabs. The government uses Arab nationalism and economic ties with Russia and China to defy the world and get away with driving non-Arab tribes from Darfur. Sudan is also an ally of Iran and recipient of Iranian weapons and advice on how to best terrorize a population into submission. The government believes time is on its side and that the West will never try anything bold and effective to halt the violence. So far, the government has been proven right, but keeps losing control of Sudan, bit by bit. South Sudan is falling into the same cycle of internal disorder and fragmentation.
The massive violence has been going on since 2011 and has become a proxy war between Iran and the Sunni Arab states (and their Western allies). In late 2015 Russia sent warplanes, ground troops and lots more military aid in an effort to save the Syrian government, a longtime ally, from destruction. Russia claimed this was an effort to destroy ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant), not save the Syrian government. That worked with some rebel groups, who are now cooperating with the government and Russians against ISIL. Because of this, plus over a year of ISIL attacking rebels as well as the government, the rebels are losing, or at least stalled. The pro-Iran Assad clan still controls the government and has the backing of Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba and the other usual suspects. The Assads are still hated by most Syrians and most Arabs who see the Assads as traitors for supporting Iran and Iranian efforts to replace Arabs as guardians of the most holy places of Mecca and Medina and leader of the Moslem world. The West never wanted the expense and bother of doing another Libya (air support and special operations troops on the ground) to oust the Assads but is willing to be part of a mainly Arab coalition providing air support for anyone willing fight ISIL in Syria and Iraq and help prevent an Iranian/Assad victory. Syria was one of the many Arab Spring uprisings, but one that did not end quickly (as in Tunisia and Egypt) or evolve into a brief civil war (as in Libya and Yemen) or get suppressed (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain). The Syrian protests just continued and turned into armed rebellion in late 2011. Syria is, like Iraq under Saddam, a Baath Party dictatorship. But there are two differences. Unlike Iraq, where a Sunni minority dominated a Shia majority, it's just the opposite in Syria. More importantly, Syria has little oil wealth and the government depends on subsidies from Shia Iran to survive. Despite growing international criticism (even from the Arab League) the government refused to stop using violence and other police state tactics to suppress the pro-democracy activity. Since 2011 the violence has left nearly 300,000 people dead and 20 percent of those died in 2014. The killing diminished a bit in 2015 because of sheer exhaustion and the outcome is now in doubt. The growing strength of the rebels has been crippled by disputes between the many rebel factions. The Islamic radicals (mainly al Qaeda and ISIL) want to turn Syria into a religious dictatorship while many Syrians want democracy. The stubborn Assad dictatorship, because of reinforcements from Iran (mainly in the form of several thousand Hezbollah gunmen from Lebanon) and Russia now has a chance to win, something some Western nations see as preferable to Islamic terrorists taking over and requiring a Western invasion to remove such a threat. Russia and Iran are quite pleased with the way they have played the situation, especially the 2014 deal to remove Syrian chemical weapons (which the Syrians can rebuild later). The only rebels getting air support are the Syrian Kurds because, like their Iraqi kinsmen, they can be trusted. Western warplanes are over Syria since late 2014, but they are bombing Islamic terrorist rebels, not Assad forces.
The years of civil disorder in the capital triggered yet another military coup in 2014. That ended the low level civil war over military control of the government. The anti-democracy minority (royalists and many educated urbanites) used large demonstrations and persuasive appeals to the military to stage another coup. The new military government keeps delaying new elections because opinion polls indicate military rule is unpopular with most Thais and, as in the past, there will be reprisals against the military once elections are held. Meanwhile Malay Moslems in the south (three percent of the population) continue to cause problems. In 2013 the government was able to find someone down there to negotiate with and these talks made initial progress but are now stalled. Most Thais are ethnic Thais and Buddhist while the southerners are Moslem and ethnic Malays. In the south Islamic radicalism arrived after 2001 along with an armed effort to create a separate Islamic state in the three southern provinces. Islamic terrorists grew more powerful month by month for several years and refused to negotiate. Security forces persisted and are making progress in identifying (especially with new DNA tools) and rounding up the terrorists. But there is no quick victory in sight.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections (mostly Congo and Somalia) because of Ugandan participation in a growing number of peacekeeping operations in Africa.
In 2015 Yemen unrest became a full civil war when Shia rebels sought to take control of the entire country and neighboring Arab states formed a coalition to halt that. The Arab coalition appears to be succeeding because at the end of 2015 pro-government forces are surrounding the rebel-held capital. As the fighting intensified in early 2015 Iran admitted it had been quietly supporting the Shia rebels for a long time but now was doing so openly, or at least trying. The Arabs, with U.S. support, blockaded air and sea access to Yemen. The U.S. refused to send in ground troops but the Arabs eventually did. The Arab troops made a big difference despite suffering some embarrassing defeats along the way. This was an impressive display of Arab military capabilities, which benefitted from all the money spent on high-tech weapons in the last two decades. The came despite Shia rebels beating Saudi forces during some 2009 border battles. The basic problem is that Yemen has been a mess for decades. With this war Yemen is broke, disorganized and desperate. The Arab Spring hit Yemen hard and upset the "arrangement" that left one group of tribal, criminal and business leaders in charge for over three decades. This uprising was finally resolved towards the end of 2011. A successor coalition emerged and persuaded (with the promise of amnesty) the old dictator Saleh to step down. Islamic terrorists have been more active since the government began arresting key members of al Qaeda in 2010. Other groups (mainly tribal leaders) in the south wanted more say in the government, and a larger share of the oil revenue and foreign aid. In early 2012 the new ruling coalition massed its military and tribal forces and decisively defeated al Qaeda in the south. The tribes that had allied themselves with al Qaeda quickly made temporary peace but the separatists are still active. The decline in Islamic terrorist violence in southern Yemen was replaced in 2013 by more aggressiveness by Shia tribal separatists in the north. The Shia tribes in the north moved south and occupied the capital in 2014. The Shia rebels moved to seize control of the entire country in early 2015. The Shia are only a third of the population and succeeded because the Sunni tribes are still divided. Despite the civil war political maneuvering in general continues and in 2015 ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) began operating in Yemen.
Meanwhile there were still many Yemenis who have a grudge against the government. Most of this can be traced back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990 but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south have always been pulling apart ever since. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government until the last century or so was wealthier coastal city states nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming (or a little of both) plus smuggling and other illicit sidelines. This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity (kingdom, emirate or modern variation in the form of a hereditary dictatorship.) For a long time the most active Yemeni rebels were the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They have always wanted to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. Yemen also became the new headquarters of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) when Saudi Arabia was no longer safe for the terrorists after 2007.