Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 25 April 2017: US defence secretary visits Afghanistan, further demonstrations against Venezuelan president, French police officer shot and killed in possible terrorist attack

The weekly briefing, 25 April 2017: US defence secretary visits Afghanistan, further demonstrations against Venezuelan president, French police officer shot and killed in possible terrorist attack

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: $43 million found in Lagos apartment forces Nigerian president to take visible steps to tackle high-level corruption; Six soldiers killed in blast from al-Shabaab roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region.

Americas: US defence secretary visits Afghanistan amid calls for a troop surge; Further demonstrations against the president take place across Venezuela.

Asia-Pacific: North Korean newspaper claims US aircraft carrier heading to western Pacific could be destroyed in single pre-emptive strike; US government confirms it will allow Australian refugee resettlement plan agreed by Obama to go ahead.

Europe and Central Asia: British prime minister announces surprise plans to hold snap general election; French police officer shot and killed in possible terrorist attack on Champs Elysees in Paris.

Middle East and North Africa: Egyptian president arrives in Saudi capital in show of solidarity after months of tensions between the two countries; Iraqi government forces confirm retaking of two more neighbourhoods in western Mosul from Islamic State.

Africa

Nigeria

US$43 million have been found in an apartment in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, in a scandal that has forced the president, Muhammadu Buhari, to take immediate action against corruption. Buhari ordered a wide-ranging investigation into high-level corruption and suspended a number of senior officials on 19 April, including the director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, and top civil servant David Babachir Laval over the awarding of contracts under a Nigerian government programme. The investigation is expected to report back to the president in 14 days. Buhari was first elected in 2015 on a promise to address corruption and tackle the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country. As of yet, he has not successfully combatted either. Buhari’s critics have asserted that the crackdowns on corruption are actually being used to silence the opposition.

Somalia

At least six soldiers died and another eight were wounded when the blast from a roadside bomb struck their military vehicle on 23 April close to Bosaso in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack is one of several that have taken place since Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed became the president of Somalia on 16 February. Despite the optimism generated by the new president’s focus on security, his government has yet to contain al-Shabaab, despite offering support for fighters who leave the militant group and reintegrate with society. However, on 7 April, al-Shabaab officially dismissed the president’s amnesty offer as being a statement to ‘please the West’. Attacks have been more frequent since then, and are highly likely to continue.

Americas

United States

On 24 April, the US defence secretary, Jim Mattis, arrived in Afghanistan for his first visit to the country as secretary of defence. He is scheduled to meet US troops and senior Afghan government officials. The visit will likely prove crucial in determining the extent to which the United States’ military involvement in Afghanistan will continue over the medium to long term. Although the US president, Donald Trump, argued for a more isolationist US foreign policy during his election campaign, some members of his administration are now lobbying for a troop surge in the 15-year-old campaign in Afghanistan. This includes the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, who has requested several thousand additional troops. Such a surge would likely help counter the Taliban’s recent increase in attacks on Afghan government officials and provide much needed resources to speed up the training of Afghan security forces. However, as evidenced by previous troop surges in Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011, additional US troops only provide temporary spells of relative stability without addressing the underlying causes of insecurity.

Venezuela

On 22 April, large demonstrations took place across Venezuela, including in the capital, Caracas, to honour the 22 people who have been killed during anti-government protests since the beginning of April. The protests have resulted in clashes between supporters and opponents of the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, with his opponents demanding that he step down. Maduro indicated that he would hold local elections, and called for talks with the opposition to resume ahead of fresh protests on 24 April. However, the president has only subscribed to the idea of holding elections for mayors and state governors, which were scheduled to take place anyway. It is likely that Maduro is using the talks and the prospect of local elections in order to buy time and restore relative calm on the streets, while shifting the focus away from his own legitimacy. Given that opponents already accuse him of such delaying tactics during talks in 2016, it is unlikely that the protests will wane in the short-term.

Venezuelan president likely using the prospect of local elections to shift the focus away from his own legitimacyClick To Tweet

Asia-Pacific

North Korea

A North Korean newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, has published an article claiming that the US aircraft carrier currently redeploying to the western Pacific could be sunk in a single strike if North Korea so desired. Last week, after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, stated that the United States was considering all ways in which it can put pressure on Pyongyang, the same newspaper claimed that a North Korean pre-emptive strike would be capable of not only destroying the ‘invasion forces’ but also targets on the US mainland. The newspaper is a propaganda voice of the ruling Workers’ Party. The current North Korean posturing is likely just empty threats designed more to reassure the domestic audience than anything else, though there is an outside chance that North Korea is positioning itself to pre-emptively target the Carl Vinson carrier strike group on its way to the region. Meanwhile, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has asked the United States for advance consultation if it decides to launch military action against North Korea.

Australia

The US government has confirmed that it will allow the Australian migrant resettlement plan agreed under the last administration to go ahead. The agreement allows for 1,250 people currently being held in Australia’s controversial migrant detention centres on Nauru and Manus to be resettled in the United States. In return, Australia will resettle refugees heading to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Following a political crisis in late 2016 after reports emerged of the rape and abuse that happens in the detention facilities, the then US president, Barack Obama, agreed to transfer 1,250 refugees to the United States. However, in his first phone conversation with the Australian prime minister, the new US president, Donald Trump, mocked the idea and called it ‘dumb’. The US government has now decided to honour the agreement, though it will apply ‘extreme vetting’ of the refugees. The US vice-president, Mike Pence, announced the U-turn at a joint press conference with the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

On 18 April, the British prime minister, Theresa May, announced plans to hold a general election on 8 June. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 means that in the United Kingdom general elections are normally held every five years, and May had repeatedly ruled out calling a snap election. The day after her surprise announcement, May easily secured the parliamentary majority needed to call a general election before the one scheduled for May 2020. May claims that the election is needed to ensure a greater government majority as the United Kingdom heads into the Brexit negotiations. However, as she is yet to be frustrated in the Brexit process by parliament, the media has put forward various other reasons for the election. The most obvious is that she seeks to take advantage of the opposition Labour Party’s very poor poll rating. Opposition MPs have also pointed to the fact that 15 police forces are currently considering charges against 30 Conservative Party candidates for electoral fraud. The ruling Conservative Party is expected to win the forthcoming election by a landslide, after which the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, will likely resign.

British prime minister seeks to take advantage of poor opposition party polling numbers and calls snap electionClick To Tweet

France

On 20 April, a man with an assault rifle fired on police officers sitting in a van on the Champs Elysees in Paris, killing the officer in the driver’s seat. He then shot at other police officers on the street, wounding two. He was shot dead by officers as he attempted to flee the attack. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and police found a note near the body of the shooter defending the militant group. The attacker was a 39-year-old French man, Karim Cheurfi, who had previously served 14 years in prison for shooting a police officer and one other man in 2001. He was also under suspicion earlier this year after reports that he was planning to kill police officers. His apartment was searched at the time, but the knives and masks that were found were not considered enough evidence to detain him. He had no apparent links to radical Islamism at the time, and his motive for the Champs Elysees attack is unclear. The shooting took place a few days before the first round of the French presidential election on 23 April, from which the social liberal En Marche! and the far-right National Front candidates emerged to contest the second round on 7 May. It is possible that the National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, benefitted from the attack happening so close to the election.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on 23 April in a show of solidarity after months of tension between the two countries. The friction has had two primary causes: firstly, the contentious transfer of sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia; secondly, the seemingly unfounded suspension of Saudi Aramco petroleum shipments in October 2016. The leaders of the two countries met privately at the Arab League summit in Jordan at the end of March, despite widespread protests in Egypt following court rulings over the transfer of the two Red Sea islands. Sisi’s visit to Riyadh suggests that relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt have vastly improved. The Egyptian president was met directly by King Salman in a show of cooperation.

Iraq

The Iraqi government and US-backed offensive against Islamic State in Mosul has continued after government forces confirmed the retaking of two more neighbourhoods in western Mosul on 20 April. Al-Thawra and Nasr had been under IS control since the militant group captured Mosul in June 2014. Iraqi federal police also announced a successful operation against a key IS operative. The offensive against Mosul, which has been ongoing since October 2016, appears to be gaining momentum despite no significant victories since the capture of the east of the city in January. The Iraqi Army has launched a fresh assault on IS held villages as part of a month-long operation to retake areas in the west of Anbar province. The Iraqi government claims that Islamic State now only controls 7% of territory in the state, down from 40% in 2014.

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