Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 21 February 2017: Munich Security Conference focusses on US commitment to NATO, Iraq launches military offensive to retake western Mosul, left-wing candidate set to win Ecuador’s presidential election

The weekly briefing, 21 February 2017: Munich Security Conference focusses on US commitment to NATO, Iraq launches military offensive to retake western Mosul, left-wing candidate set to win Ecuador’s presidential election

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: New Gambian president officially sworn in; At least 34 people killed and another 50 injured by car bomb in Mogadishu.

Americas: Donald Trump’s national security adviser resigns; Left-wing candidate set to win Ecuador’s presidential election.

Asia-Pacific: Suicide bomber kills 80 people and injures more than 250 others in attack on Sufi shrine in Pakistani city of Sehwan; Filipino senator who heavily criticised the president’s war on drugs arrested on ‘politically-motived’ drugs-related charges.

Europe and Central Asia: Munich Security Conference focusses on US commitment to NATO and threats to EU’s collective security; Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election confirmed for 19 November 2017.

Middle East and North Africa: Iraq launches military offensive to retake western Mosul from Islamic State; Car bomb in southern Turkey kills child and injures 15 other people.

Africa

The Gambia

Adama Barrow was officially sworn in as president of the Gambia on 19 February. The new president first took the oath in the Gambia’s embassy in Senegal, where he had been in exile since being unable to take power after the former leader, Yahya Jammeh, refused to concede defeat in elections in January. Barrow has already committed to keeping the Gambia in the International Criminal Court, to rejoining the Commonwealth and to freeing political prisoners from Jammeh’s time in power. His inauguration coincided with the country’s 52nd Independence Day. The new leader has proved popular with the international community, with several leaders attending the event and the European Union announcing a new €75 million ($80 million) package of support for the country.

Somalia

At least 34 people were killed and another 50 injured by a car bomb in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on 19 February. It is the first major attack since the election of the country’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, on 8 February. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though it is likely to be the work of al-Shabaab The attack came the day after Hassan Yaqub, a senior al-Shabaab commander, announced that anyone who collaborated with the new president would be at risk. The president has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible for the car bombing. Following the killing of at least 28 people in an attack on the Dayah Hotel in Mogadishu in January, this latest attack is yet another demonstration of the significant security challenge the new president faces.

Americas

United States

Michael Flynn resigned as Donald Trump’s national security adviser on 13 February after only 24 days in the post. Flynn’s resignation followed revelations in the Washington Post and earlier warnings by the justice department that he had provided the vice president, Mike Pence, with ‘incomplete’ information regarding the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Leaked transcripts revealed that Flynn had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia over its interference in the 2016 US presidential election with Kislyak over the phone and in texts during the transition. His failure to disclose such communications left him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. The resignation of the top US national security bureaucrat such a short time after Trump’s inauguration is generating further turmoil in his already-chaotic administration. Flynn’s resignation means it is highly likely that the administration will continue to lack a coherent foreign policy and national security agenda, which will be marred by further turf wars between the state and defence departments and will fluctuate depending on Trump’s personal priorities.

Ecuador

The ruling party’s candidate, Lenin Moreno, is likely to win Ecuador’s presidential election. As of 21 February, Moreno has 39.1% of the vote that has been counted; however, that is just short of the 40% of the vote and 10-point lead over the next candidate that is required in order to be elected in the first round of the election and avoid a second ballot. It is likely that the final result will not be announced for another two or three days. Moreno’s closest opponent, the right-wing opposition leader, Guillermo Lasso, could win a potential second round, as he would likely be backed by most of the candidates eliminated in the first round. The election is an important turning point for Ecuador, as the outgoing left-wing president, Rafael Correa, will be standing down after three terms and a decade in power. A victory for Lasso would have heralded a dramatic shift towards a right-wing policy agenda. He indicated that he would provide tax cuts for large companies and would expel the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, from Ecuador’s London embassy. In contrast, Moreno will likely continue Maduro’s policy agenda.

Asia-Pacific

Pakistan

On 16 February, a suicide bomber killed 80 people and injured more than 250 others in an attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. There has been a recent resurgence of violence in Pakistan, with both Islamic State and Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (part of the Pakistani Taliban) claiming responsibility for attacks in the past several weeks. Since 13 February, there have been four terrorist attacks on government targets and a Jamaat-ur-Ahrar suicide attack on a protest that killed two senior police officers, three other police officers and eight civilians. The Pakistani Taliban has been relatively quiet over the past two years after security forces targeted militant camps in 2014. The government response to the resurgence has been to condemn Afghanistan for harbouring militants, to carry out two cross-border incursions against Afghan militant camps and to kill more than 80 militants in raids. Islamabad’s actions risk a further deterioration in relations with Afghanistan and the continued growth of Pakistani militant groups as hardline government tactics fuel recruitment.

Philippines

A Filipino senator who heavily criticised the country’s ‘war on drugs’ has been arrested on drugs-related charges. Senator Leila de Lima is being charged with receiving money from a detained drug lord and for allowing a drug operation to be run from within prison. The former justice minister has denied the charges, which Human Rights Watch describe as politically motivated. The drug crackdown initiated by the president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been widely condemned after the police killed more than 7,700 suspects in seven months for dealing or taking drugs. Duterte has now handed responsibility for the controversial crackdown to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency with the support of the military, and stated that the police force needs to be reformed to tackle corruption. De Lima was also a vocal critic of Duterte during the latter’s time as Davao city mayor and the unexplained deaths that resulted from his anti-crime policies.

Europe and Central Asia

Germany

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) was held on 17-19 February in Germany. The annual conference brings together senior security decision-makers from around the world. A central issue this year was the United States’ commitment to NATO. The US defence secretary, James Mattis, reaffirmed NATO’s collective defence clause (Article 5) and the US vice-president, Mike Pence, confirmed the United States’ commitment to the alliance. However, Donald Trump’s administration has also continued to assert that other NATO members must meet their defence spending obligations or the United States could reconsider their commitment to Article 5. As such, European leaders have been left uncertain of the United States real commitment to NATO. Another related issue at the conference was the future of the European Union’s collective security. With Brexit looming and forthcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany as well as Pence’s failure to mention the EU in his speech and Trump’s apparently hostile attitude towards the union, many EU leaders fear an undermining of the EU’s collective security at the same time as a breakdown in European-US relations that could undermine NATO.

Kyrgyzstan

19 November 2017 has been confirmed as the date of Kyrgyzstan’s next presidential election. The announcement paves the way for one of the most-competitive and least-predictable ballots in the region’s history. Kyrgyzstan’s current president, Almazbek Atambayev, was elected in 2011 in a unique example of a peaceful democratic transition in the region as the successor to Roza Otunbayeva, who had held power in an interim capacity since the country’s second revolution in April 2010. Atambayev is prohibited from running in this year’s election, as Kyrgyzstan’s constitution restricts presidents to a single six-year term. Candidates are likely to be key figures from the Otunbayeva and Atambayev governments, including former prime ministers Omurbek Bababov and Termir Sariyev. The December 2016 referendum on constitutional changes is likely to have an impact on the election, as the adopted reforms increased the power of the prime minister. As a result, it is possible that Atambayev will try to position himself to take over as prime minister in the next administration.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the launch of a military offensive on western Mosul on 20 February. The assault is the latest phase in the operation that began in October 2016 to take back the city from Islamic State. Government forces seized 17 villages on 19 February as they continue their advance through Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul. Fighting continues in the east of the city despite early reports from the defence ministry that eastern Mosul had been liberated last month. Some 650,000-750,000 civilians are thought to remain in the west of the city despite initial assessments that many would leave when the fighting broke out four months ago. The battle for the west of the city is expected to be fierce, and high numbers of civilian casualties are likely. The United Nations and other international organisations have warned of a potential humanitarian crisis as the fighting intensifies.

Turkey

A car bomb in southern Turkey killed a child and injured 15 other people on 17 February. The explosion targeted a building that houses judges and prosecutors in the Sanliurfa province close to the border with Syria. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though it was probably the work of Kurdish militants or Islamic State. Turkish authorities have arrested 26 people in response to the attack. The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, condemned the bombing, which he claims specifically targeted the judiciary. Kurdish militants and those affiliated with Islamic State are likely to continue attacks in Turkey.

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