Saturday, October 20, 2012

Assassination of senior Lebanese Intelligence offical in Beirut

The death of senior Lebanese Intelligence official, Wissam al Hassan, looks as though it was a meticulously planned assassination to weaken the anti-Assad movement. Hassan was close to Saad Hariri, the leader of the Lebanese opposition and hostile to the regime in Syria. He had been tipped to take over as ISF head  - a Sunni dominated arm of the security apparatus supported by SA, Turkey and Qatar – that has been directly involved in logistical support to the Free Syrian Army. Al-Hassan was pivotal in the Internal Security Forces' Aug. 9 arrest of former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, a close ally of al Assad, over alleged involvement in a bomb plot commissioned by Damascus. He was also reportedly close to former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Saad's father, and took part in the investigation into Rafik al-Hariri's 2005 assassination, which implicated Syria and Hezbollah.

The attack in Sassine Square was likely intended to emulate the modus operandi of Salafist Jihadists; an obvious subterfuge given extremists have been moving into the Levant in recent months. Blaming Jihadists would give the Assad-regime a certain amount of deniability whilst stirring up tensions and possible retaliatory violence against Syrian-aligned figures in Lebanon. However it's unlikely that Al-Hassan supporters will believe that Jihadists were responsible. That said it may be too soon to determine which group was responsible for the attack, yet all the markers point towards Damascus with an intent to shift the strategic focus away from its central nucleus and weaken FSA supply lines into Syria.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Consulate attack in Benghazi galvanizes the masses

Benghazi consulate attack:

Wednesday brought confirmation that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats were killed in Tuesday's attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The consulate building was set on fire by protesters enraged over a film made in the United States that depicts the Prophet Mohammed in a derogatory manner. Similar violent protests have occurred in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East and could spread to the wider Islamic world by Friday. Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Islamist group, claimed responsibility for the attack which took advantage of the security vacuum in Benghazi left behind from last year’s uprising. The incident raised questions as to why increased security measures had not been enforced at the consulate following an attack by Islamic militants on the same building back in June. The British Ambassador’s convoy had also been attacked in Benghazi earlier on in the year illustrating an increased security risk to diplomatic staff operating in the city.

Demonstrations after Friday Prayers:

Following demonstrations in other areas of the Middle East and north Africa, it seems likely that Islamists in Iraq may stage similar demonstrations after Friday prayers. The last religious demonstration to turn violent in Iraq was back in May when 1000s took to the streets of Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, demanding swift punishment for the editor of a Kurdish magazine who had printed an article deemed offensive to Islam by local religious figures. Given the US Embassy’s location inside the IZ, protests may take place in Tahrir Square in the capital’s eastern city centre, or similarly, protests may be witnessed outside either of the American consulates in Kirkuk and Basra city.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

New But Not Unexpected- Significant Iraq Security Incidents

The deaths of at least 107 Iraqis in seemingly coordinated attacks eclipsed the expected but still shocking news that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has been sentenced to death by a Baghdad criminal court. Another 484 Iraqis were wounded in the violence, which occurred even deep into southern Iraq where such bloodshed is rare. One attack took place at a French consulate in Nasiriyah.

Although some of the attacks occurred earlier than the sentencing announcement, it cannot be ruled out that several of the later attacks were in response to it. Surges in violence have accompanied significant points in the Hashemi trial, and the evening attacks targeted Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Hashemi is Sunni.

The fugitive vice president was sentenced to death in what many believe was a rigged court decision. He has denied all allegations and insisted the trial was part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s intensified campaign to marginalize Sunnis. The case was tried in absentia after Hashemi fled Iraq, first to Kurdistan and later to Turkey. Both governments refused to hand Hashemi over.
Hashemi was first accused of financing terrorist activities in December, curiously, just as U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. The first case, a bombing at the parliament building, turned out to be an al-Qaeda operation instead, but the Maliki administration found another 150 cases to blame on Hashemi.
On Sunday, he and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, were found guilty for their involvement in the murders of a lawyer and security official. Over a lack of evidence, a judge acquitted Hashemi on a third murder charge. Defense lawyers re-iterated their belief that Maliki had manipulated court proceedings against his political rival and were promptly threatened by the court. If Hashemi returns to Iraq, he is legally allowed a re-trial. Unintentionally supporting Hashemi’s counter-allegations, Maliki had tried to oust other senior Sunni politicians and ignited a political crisis that is yet unresolved. Moreover, at least three of Hashemi’s employees diedwhile in detention, possibly tortured to death during interrogations. Hashemi has frequently accused the Iraqi government of extricating all confessions in the case through torture.

Meanwhile, violence took a heavy toll today. 

At least 107 people were killed and 484 more were wounded across the country, even in relatively peaceful southern cities.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Threat Warning - Baghdad

Situation: AQI released a statement on a Jihadist site on Thursday warning the Iraqi  government of retribution against recent executions in the country.

Analysis: The threat warning is in response to the execution of 21 people convicted of terrorism charges, including three women, on Tuesday. According to government sources, about 200 more executions are planned for the near future. Amnesty International in June condemned the Iraqi state’s penchant for the death penalty, calling it “alarming.” Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite leader of the opposition Iraqiya bloc in parliament, said Maliki’s security forces have detained and brutally tortured more than 1,000 political opponents in secret prisons and denied them access to legal counsel. Whether or not such assertions are disingenuous, the facts reported by western and local media speak for themselves, and have led to galvanize AQI into greater violence.

A quiet week following omnipresent attacks across Iraq leading up to Eid, could spell another period of highly lethal and indiscriminate AQI aggression.

The Iraqi Army were put on high alert in Baghdad today after two senior security officials were targeted by militants on Wednesday. An increase in drive-by-shootings and SAF attacks against police checkpoints has forced military commanders to re-posture their units across the capital and cities to the north. And last week the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) released a general threat warning for the central areas of the capital. Although Friday is traditionally a quiet period as Islamic militants respect the call to prayer, attacks at the weekend can be expected to increase with a significant threat to the capital’s city centre.

Advise: Expect increased security, especially around government facilities and public areas such as hotels, shopping centers, markets, and transportation hubs. If AQI are plotting another attack, they could shift their target to a less-secure location if heightened security makes it impossible to strike their original target.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Post 2012 Ramadan - Iraq

Al-Qaeda in Iraq far from out during Ramadan 2012

With the end of Ramadan begins the tallying of casualties that occurred during the holy month. Unity approximates at least 690 civilians and members of the security apparatus were killed during the month of Ramadan. Two spikes in AQI activity, one at the beginning of Ramadan, and the other last Thursday, account for the greater number of casualties. On July 23, 145 people were killed across central and northern Iraq. At the other end on August 16, 128 people were killed. The violence committed on those two days was clearly coordinated. Agence France Press recorded 409 killed.

Last year Unity recorded a much lower tally of 455 deaths. The Iraqi ministries under-reported with 185 killed. Iraq Body count put the figure at 398 deaths.

According to data pulled from the United Nations Aid Mission in Iraq (UNAMI). There were 389 attacks recorded  during the month of Ramadan in 2011. This year that number diminished to 356 incidents. Although fewer attacks were reported, violence was much more indiscriminate and effective in 2012. Much like AQI’s current ‘bringing breaking down the walls’ campaign, last year towards the end of Ramadan, the organisation promised to target Iraq with 100 attacks to avenge its Sunni brethren.

The lethality and frequency of attacks recorded throughout Ramadan 2012 have shown that AQI and other affiliate groups are far from eradicated. Statistically there has been little change since Ramadan 2011, with only more violence and greater numbers of casualties highlighting an ever-resurgent network of skilled bomb-makers, sympathizers and facilitators, all seemingly coordinated to maintain a grip on the downward spiralling security situation in Iraq.

This year the Iraqi government are alone culpable for a continuation in violence. With an American presence no longer censured for an extremist presence in Iraq, the government will now have to make drastic changes to its security policy and personnel in order to ameliorate the dire situation in finds itself in post-Ramadan.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Libya..... Troubling Security Overtones

We saw the first attack using a improvised explosive device (IED) in Tripoli on Saturday ('car bomb').

Our team assess that it was a remote controlled IED (RCIED). This is a concerning development which demonstrates the porosity of the security forces but also a local capability to build explosive devices locally. The levels of sophistication are questionable (1 reported injury) but the capability versus intent balance is potentially troubling.

A continuance of these style of events, with high media payoffs, will discredit the political apparatus and also test local tolerances and confidence.

We continue to monitor carefully.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Violent Attacks in Iraq- The Touch Points

Yesterday saw the most significant coordinated violence in Iraq of some time (years). Our Analytical team yesterday summarized the initial details:

Security: Areas in the central and north of the country have been subjected to a string of car bombings and extremist attacks which have reportedly killed and wounded 100+ Iraqis. 

Reported areas of violence:
  1. South Baghdad (Madain district) – Car bomb attack and three IED explosions. 6 killed 13 wounded.
  2. South Baghdad (Mahmudiya district) – Car bomb attack against civilians. 5 killed 28 wounded.
  3. Baghdad (Husseiniya, (N/W) district) Car bomb attack. 3 killed 31 wounded.
  4. Baghdad (Sadr city, (E) district) – Car bomb attack against civilians. 21 killed and wounded.
  5. Baghdad (Taji, (N) suburbs) – Car bomb attack against civilians and ISF. 7 killed 28 wounded.
  6. Diyala province (Khan Bani Saad, (N) Baghdad) – Suicide bombing followed by car bomb attack. No further details given.
  7. Diyala province (Saadiya, (E) district) – Car bomb attack against IP patrol. 1 killed 3 wounded.
  8. Diyala province (Tuz Kharamtu, (N) district) – Two Car bomb attacks against civilians and ISF. 2 killed 35 wounded.
  9. Salahddin province – Exact location unknown. Mortar attack against IA base. 19 killed and wounded.
  10. Ramadi – Car bomb attack against police station. 6 killed and wounded.
  11. South Mosul city – Car bomb attack. 17 killed and wounded
  12. Kirkuk city – 4 car bomb attacks in quick succession. At least 5 killed 17 wounded

The first online statement from the new leader of al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq claims that the militant network is returning to strongholds from which it was driven by U.S. forces and their Sunni allies before the American withdrawal at the end of last year. The al-Qaida leader claimed the militant group is preparing operations to free prisoners and assassinate court officials. The audio identified the speaker as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who became head of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2010. It was posted late Saturday evening on a website regularly used by the militant movement to make statements. He also invited Muslims to come to Iraq to join his militants. The statement comes as Sunni insurgents, now believed to be dominated by the ISI, have stepped up attacks against Shiites, government officials and other targets, in what is seen as an attempt to undercut the authority of Iraq's government and revive sectarian conflict.

Last week Unity reported the likelihood of repercussions in the south of Baghdad following the arrest of 19 AQI operatives in the district of Mahmudiyah. The car bomb explosion witnessed in the district, coupled with other similar attacks in neighboring areas, is indicative of al-Baghdadi’s statement claiming to have regained former strongholds, and provides evidence that these networks are far from eradicated.

For more information contact: 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Kurds create a new security institution

The Kurds create a national security council to add to Iraq's dysfunctional security architecture

What is conspicuously clear is the lack of coordination and control various units have with one another across Iraq. It seems even with a plethora of command centres dotted across the provinces, there is very little effort placed in bridging the information gaps that have perpetuated the existence of a number of threat groups operating across the country.

The issue of trust is an intangible that continues to effect the efficacy of Iraq's security forces. For example the Iraqi Army commander of the 56th brigade based in Basra will seldom share information with the police as they are corrupt and infiltrated by militia groups, according to a media report from the province. The Oil police are also perceived by the security hierachy as a ragtag bunch of ill-disciplined former military men who should not be depended on for anything other than a physical force. Again whenever attacks occur near the oil field area, the army are called into rebalance the security equilibrium.

Interestingly we’re seeing more and more, a balkanizing effect on the military divisions across Iraq. Only recently the Kurds created a security council and are seeking to influence the disputed areas with a greater number of Kurdish commanders. This also remains a major bone of contention for the Ninewa province where infighting between political parties has widened the Kurd/Arab schism and compounded the security situation. PM Maliki is only too aware of this, and his paranoia is working on overdrive. Of course it doesn’t help that since the beginning of the year there has been talk of a coup plot against the premier which has resulted in political imprisonments, the sacking of security chiefs, and of course a military (pro-Maliki) bulwark of activity in areas where the request for separatism is most recurrent.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Here is an article from one of Unity's friends in Cairo reporting on the drama unfolding as Egypt faces its next presidential elections with no parliament and no constitution. Unfortunately for the revolutionaries there is little to be cheerful for, either submit to a military-backed dictatorship or risk a stifling Islamic autocracy.

Showdown in Cairo: Egyptian High Court Dissolves Parliament

Daily Beast/Newsweek

By Vivian Salama

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Terrorist attacks in Iraq kill dozens as religous festival gets underway

A series of coordinated attacks have taken place across Iraq on Wednesday morning. Seven provinces were affected by the violence, including Baghdad.  The most lethal attack (a car bomb explosion against a pilgrim rest stop in the east of the capital) reportedly killed 40 civilians and flattened dozens of buildings in the area. In the provinces of Salluhdin, Anbar, Babil, Karbala and Wassit, extremists targeted predominately Shiite areas with car bombs, mortar attacks and roadside bombs. In the Tamim province, two KDP offices were the subject of car bomb attacks, indicating an intent by extremists to further polarise the community where ethnic and political tensions remain high. Approximate casualty figures from this morning’s violence have yet to be corroborated, but initial reports suggest over 70 were killed and at least the same amount wounded. A number of areas were put under curfew as a knee jerk reaction to the potential for further violence.

Amongst tight security measures it seems extremist/insurgent groups have again managed to pervade checkpoints and areas of additional security to subversively target pilgrims and places of religious/political importance. Additionally, and after an almost monthly attack cycle of disproportionate violence since the beginning of the year, extremists have managed to emphasize the utter futility  of Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces. Its failure - a by-product of the dysfunctional architecture and poor communication between these units - is furthermore apparent after a recent mass casualty attack in the capital only last week. Such violence is presumably intended to invite a conflagration against PM Maliki from his Shiite support base at a time when the premier is garnering grassroots support for next year’s elections.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

South Sudan- Austerity or Normality?

We have spent the last week in South Sudan looking at the risks and vulnerability associated with the ongoing violence coupled with the Governments lack of income due to no oil based revenues and significant inflationary pressures.  Through this period there seems two clear, and perhaps even somewhat linked, possibilities:

Possibility 1.  Current austerity measures are not able to survive the next few months. This has the potential to lead to a wide range of problems including humanitarian challenges (some are mooting a 'disaster') and the likelihood that Government salaries are not able to be met. Inside the security forces this could be catastrophic, if soldiers and police pursued other sources of illegitimate income.

Possibility 2. Austerity measures actually do work..... after all South Sudan have, in reality, been managing tiny budgets for many, many years. That said, there is an increased and improved spending appetite inside the Government that will need to be moderated.

One thing is clear. The tiny capital of Juba is conjuring much as we close up on the first anniversary of independence.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

'Lights for Learning' Project- Northern Kenya

Our team had the great privilege in visiting Chumvi Village School yesterday as part of our sponsoring the Nancy Ellen Crook’s Foundation “Light for Learning” Project in Northern Kenya. 

In an incredibly impoverished rural area with no electricity the Project focuses on the provision of solar powered lamps to children, to assist with their nightly homework. 

The children receiving the lights will be monitored throughout the school year to assess the impact the light source has on their ability to study and end of term test scores.

An incredible day and an honor to visit such a wonderful school in a beautiful area. A special moment to also meet Mr Howard Crooks, Nancy's husband, whose drive and energy is inspiring.

There is no more important contribution that we can make to the education and development of children.

The School has over 800 Students

Jim LeBlanc (VP- Americas) Presents a Solar Light to one of the School Mothers
Unity's Team with Mr Howard Crooks

For more information:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Explosion in Nairobi...... Potential to be Explosive

Yesterday's explosion in the Nairobi CBD has been reported by Kenyan Police as having been conducted by anti government elements.

In the lead up to elections in Kenya the attack was proof of a porous security architecture that is concerning Kenyan society. The general feeling in the City is one of concern. Recent hand grenade attacks (2) last Saturday is testing the confidence of the Kenyan people in their security forces.

The additional pressure of elections, and the associated build up, has the real potential to be a fuel source for additional anti government violence seeking to discredit the national government.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kurdish independance from Iraq

Power Struggles in Baghdad and Beyond Mean Opportunities for Iraq’s Kurds
The thriving Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq is a monument to the ability of the nationalist Kurdish-Iraqi leadership to parlay the conflict between more powerful geopolitical forces around them to maximum advantage. And the escalating power struggle in Baghdad, combined with the regional conflict between Iran, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states being played out in Syria, may offer the Kurdish leadership in Erbil new opportunities to strengthen foundations for independence from Iraq. It may be a perilous game of temporary alliances of convenience among forces that don’t necessarily share a common vision, but that’s precisely the sort of political balancing act that created the Kurdish polity in northern Iraq, which already has many of the attributes of independence such as its own flag, administration and security forces — and is seeking to expand its independent economic base.

The power struggle in Baghdad has escalated to alarming proportions in the months since the last U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki eschewing the principle of a unity government that gives all stakeholders a share of power and instead amassing power in his own hands. Even the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support was critical to getting Maliki reelected, has taken to referring to the Prime Minister as “the dictator.” Sunni insurgent violence continues, while Sunni political leaders have been hounded out of government by Maliki. Recent days have seen him huddling with his key regional allies in Tehran, as he steps up a war of words and threats with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he accuses of meddling in Iraq’s affairs. Turkey makes no secret of its support for Iraq’s Sunni political bloc, Iraqiyya, and has castigated Maliki for pursuing a sectarian and “egocentric” style of ruling. Ankara has recently played host to fugitive Iraqi Sunni leader Tarek al-Hashemi, who was forced to flee Baghdad to escape a criminal prosecution his supporters see as a trumped up charge designed to hobble the Sunni political leadership. Hashemi fled first to Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whose terrain the Iraqi security forces are not authorized to enter.

As dramatic as the language and gestures of some of the key players may be, however, patronage politics has entrenched a certain pragmatism in Iraq’s political class that shows no sign of evaporating in a headlong rush into civil war. Still, every new breakdown and episode of brinkmanship brings opportunities to press the Kurdish cause.

The Kurds, who represent some 20% of Iraq’s population, maintained good relations with Iran before Saddam Hussein’s ouster, and have typically been courted in post-Saddam politics when the major Shi’ite and Sunni political players have needed them to tip the balance against the other. The de facto casting vote provided by their share of Iraq’s proportional representation parliament has allowed the leaders of Kurdistan’s main parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani, who serves as President of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani, who holds the position of Prime Minister in the KRG — to extract more concessions on autonomy and territorial control than Iraq’s Arab politicians would otherwise offer.

And these days, it’s not only Iraqi politicians that are courting the Kurds. Turkey last week feted Barzani in Ankara, rolling out the red carpet and affording him a meeting with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and he recently returned from a visit to Washington D.C. where he met with senior Administration officials. Those visits seemed to amplify Barzani’s defiance of Baghdad in a dispute over oil revenues, with the KRG prime minister accusing Maliki of paving the way for a return to dictatorship, and warning that absent “radical solutions and a specific time-frame to resolve the present crisis … we will resort to other decisions” — a not-so-veiled threat to declare independence from Iraq.

Independence, of course, remains the historical goal of Kurdish Iraqis, and a referendum on the issue staged in 2005 saw some 98% vote to break away from Iraq. Geopolitical realities, however, has required a curbing of that popular sentiment. Iraqi Kurdistan is small and landlocked, and while it possesses significant oil reserves, it would require the cooperation of one of its powerful neighbors — Turkey, Iran or Iraq — to pipe that oil to market. Also, the KRG was carved out in large part because the U.S., which had just overthrown Saddam Hussein, helped ensure its emergence, but made clear it was not ready to support a breakup of Iraq.

Kurds have waited for the moment when they will succeed in removing the shackles of an overbearing, at times highly repressive, central state. They know that when Baghdad is weak, they can take steps to bring their dream of statehood closer to reality, but that when the centre is strong it will use its superior resources to push them back into their place – or worse. This is why the Kurds are so alarmed at attempts by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to amass power at the expense of his rivals and rebuild a strong state, armed with U.S. weaponry, under his unchallenged control.

Ever since arriving in Baghdad on the coattails of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Kurds understandably have used their new position and the centre’s weakness to develop their own region. They seek to reverse a legacy of discrimination and economic neglect but also to create an escape route should relations with Baghdad sour beyond repair. Yet, in many ways, this approach contains elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy: by pressing their advantage, Kurds inevitably aggravate matters, convincing the federal government that they are aiming for secession – and aiming to take with them a good chunk of disputed territory that Kurds claim as historically part of a notional Kurdistan but that also appears to be immensely rich in oil and gas.

Conventional wisdom before the U.S. invasion had held that Turkey would fiercely oppose the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Iraq for fear of spurring separatist inclinations among its own Kurdish minority. But even as the violent insurgency of the Kurdish separatist PKK has sparked an increasingly repressive backlash by the authorities in Ankara in recent years, Turkey has instead emerged as a key ally and economic partner of the emerging Iraqi Kurdish polity, with Turkish trade with the KRG amounting to fully half of all of its trade with Iraq.
It’s a pragmatic arrangement of mutual benefit: The Kurds have lately expanded their autonomous oil industry, concluding deals late last year with Exxon Mobil — which include the right to drill fields that are not currently recognized as part of the KRG, but are coveted by it as part of the patrimony of their state in the making. That move outraged Baghdad, and Erbil earlier this month halted oil exports through territory controlled by Baghdad over a financial dispute. The Kurdish leadership hope to use a pipeline built through Turkish territory as an alternative export route once it has been completed, which would lessen the KRG’s dependence on Baghdad.

Whereas a thriving autonomous Kurdish entity on its border may once have been deemed deeply threatening to Turkey, today Ankara appears ready to support Iraq’s Kurdish separatists not only as part of its contest with Iran for regional influence, but also because Turkey sees the KRG as a potentially important ally in its struggle against the PKK. Turkish support is premised on the willingness of the authorities in the KRG to clamp down hard on PKK operations in territory under its control. Barzani certainly talks the talk, publicly demanding, in Ankara last week, that the PKK lay down arms, and warning that he will not allow the group to operate freely in Northern Iraq as long as it remains committed to violence. However it may not be quite that simple: While Iraq’s Kurdish leadership may understand the geopolitical necessity of cooperating with Turkey’s campaign against the PKK, the peshmerga fighting men on whom they’d rely to actually tackle PKK operations on their turf are generally far more sympathetic to the plight of their brothers in arms from across the Turkish border.

Turkey’s PKK fears are exacerbated by the crisis in Syria, where its support for those fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has prompted Damascus to threaten to retaliate by resuming support for the PKK — a move that could spell trouble inside Turkey which shares a long border with Syria’s Kurdish region. Some suggest enlisting the likes of Barzani could serve as something of a hedge, and possibly even persuade more Syrian Kurds to move off the sidelines and support the anti-Assad rebellion.

They may be one of the peoples overlooked by the British and French when they redrew the borders of the Middle East in the wake of World War I, but today’s Iraqi Kurds appear to have digested the lessons of history, first and foremost the maxim that every crisis is also an opportunity.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heightened Terrorist Threat- Nairobi

The US Embassy in Nairobi has issued a warning  regarding a potential terrorist attack against Nairobi hotels and/ or key government buildings. Officials said that they had received "credible information" that such an attack is "in the last stages of planning". 

We warn travelers to (re)assess their travel arrangements. These warnings, while common, will increase local security arrangements (and hence tensions) around government facilities and public areas such as hotels, shopping centers, clubs, restaurants, markets and transportation hubs. 

 For further information and/ or assistance: 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sudanese Spiral- Rhetoric or Reality?

Our team in Juba have watched carefully as instability has developed into conflict in Heglig. We have now witnessed this spread laterally along the oil band. The base of insecurity is spreading longitudinally. The question is whether we will see a latitudinal movement. Here's our thoughts.....

Sudan President Omar Al Bashir's recent (overnight) comments to 'liberate' South Sudan are likely more rhetoric than substance. He is well aware that the international community are looking for an East African 'hero' in a sea of regional instability. The Republic of South Sudan in many ways must be that hero. To that end there is only a remote chance that, even if Bashir wanted to, the Sudanese military would not be able to cross the threshold into Juba. The international community would likely stand (mostly invisible) behind the Republic of South Sudan. Think Libya.
President Bashir's commented: 'Either we end up in Juba or they end up in Khartoum. The old borders cannot take us both'. 

The reality is that neither is likely. The South has not the capabilities nor intent. The North has not the capability. Superimpose that the North risks inflaming the situation with the international community and United Nations and a status quo will likely continue in the near future along the oil band.

Friday, April 13, 2012

East Africa's Future Instability- Causation- Watch Eritrea!

The Geopolitics in East Africa are very 'interesting'. I define that as being 'stable but unpredictable'. Security and stability considerations have a wide catchment. We have previously written a number of articles for Oil and Gas Magazines that outlines some of the key factors 'why'. These hopefully provide that 25,000 foot view.

We are advocates of mapping the human terrain and ensuring community outreach and liaison to develop robust civil affairs strategies. This will ensure Community Based Security (CBS) whereby local support and 'buy-in' can be achieved. We believe you can’t dissociate countries from each other in East Africa. Indeed, negative security interrelationships exists between most countries - transnational terrorism, weak political systems and ungoverned spaces are but some examples 'why'.

And the Role of Eritrea and Ethiopia? Eritrea/ Ethiopia interplays remain a significant issue. Recent attacks (Ethiopian incursion) continued into March 2012 albeit with little media fanfare. This is largely due to:
1. Ethiopia being a valued 'partner' to the West on the 'Global War on Terror'. Hence incursions are regularly ignored.
2. The Ethiopia/ Eritrea conflict is simply a long standing and tired media message.

Eritrea is fast becoming (become?) a failed nation state which may have implications for Ethiopia and the wider region. NB: Eritrea remain accused of supporting Al Shabaab in Somalia and other anti Western Groups as well as sheltering Ethiopian rebels. Its political instability is well documented and concerns most observers, analysts and commentators.

Ethiopia continue to contribute troops against Al Shabaab into Somalia.This will continue to push Al Shabaab to seek regional support (expect from Eritrea and probably Yemen as well as Sudan?) which could create the preconditions for spiraling regional instability. Already our interlocutors in Somalia have confirmed that active operations against Al Shabaab have driven the pro Al Qaeda group north into the State of Puntland.

We also know from our Nairobi Office that Al Shabaab are openly conducting administration (and operations) into Kenya.  Al Shabaab's influence in recent attacks in Nairobi, albeit low level and unsophisticated, have shown both capability and intent.

Some other interesting neighborhood conclusions have been captured by the UN Monitoring Group at :

Stay safe......  Tim 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Putting Lipstick on that Donkey

Australian officials have rejected a report commissioned by the government agency AusAID that is critical of the security assessment in Afghanistan, insisting it be rewritten to match upbeat claims of dramatic progress. The report, by independent consultants for the aid and development agency, stated that the Taliban, while weakened in Oruzgan province - where Australian troops operate - were far from defeated. The assessment, born out by a resurgence of violence in the past two months, is at odds with the government's optimistic assertions about conditions in the province.

As we have previously espoused, what confronts the international community and NATO forces (including the Australians) in Afghanistan is largely a locally (ie: district and provincially) motivated insurgency. Whilst Anti Government Elements (AGE) are often involved, the centre of gravity of the insurgency remains in its locally generated, popular support base. The genesis is quite simple: Xenophobia and Nepotism.
Hence any 'snapshot in time' of military progress in any one particular province or area, whilst always possible, will unlikely be reflective of gains nor development nor outlook. END COMMENT.

While AusAID denied trying to dictate the content of the report, a spokeswoman said the agency had sought corrections to ''factual inaccuracies'' and ''clarifications between fact, perception and analysis''. She confirmed AusAID ''suggested'' the consultants cut a chapter on Afghan views on Australian and US troops in Oruzgan, as this ''did not fit within the terms of reference''.

The irony is that the one chapter that was cut in the Assessment was the one that was based on local opinion. Afghan views are entirely relevant- some would argue solely relevant. 'Acceptance' and 'tolerance' are key behaviors that are highly desirable (if not essential) in winning the counter insurgency battle. This is all about 'tongue instead of gun'. END COMMENT.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Great Game- Economics as the Fulcrum in Afghanistan

‘Now I shall go far and far into the North, playing the Great Game….’

-       Rudyard Kipling, Kim, 1901

Definitions of ‘The Great Game’ have morphed through many different generations. What underpins most historical definitions is the importance of Central Asia as the cross roads between East and West and the key hinge upon which trade routes would swing to support economic expansion. Modernity has transitioned this definition of ‘The Great Game’ into being the efforts made by countries maneuvering to fill (or exploit) the demise of the USSR and the fracturing of nation states in Central Asia. Superimpose onto this an increasing desire for natural resources as well the positioning of neighbouring countries considered a threat to democracy and democratic efforts. The dimension of ‘The Great Game’ is being reshaped. 

No longer is ‘The Great Game’ about a struggle in Central Asia to control trade routes, but rather posturing to ensure best strategic position to support both political and economic endstates.

Whilst Central Asia, and subsequently ‘The Great Game’ is not solely about ‘Afghanistan’, it is widely recognised that Afghanistan remains pivotal as a location of untapped natural resources that surpasses those, for example, in Mongolia. The attraction as well as the complexity is linked to its immature economy and a young government that struggles with both the concept and the execution of democracy. It remains easily manipulated by those powerful nation states that are willing to prop up the economy in return for an ability to grow strategic posturing and an opportunity to access resource yields. Infrastructure and utilities are limited. The supply chains are highly complex. And all this in a security environment that remains threatening to all, save those with the largest appetite for risk. 

Gold in the Hills

The resource sector is the big business key to the economic growth of Afghanistan; and the big consumers of resources know that Afghanistan retains extensive resource wealth. Major mining companies from America, Australia, Canada, China, India and Russia have been scoping, bidding and now leading exploration of resource blocks in Afghanistan. Increasing demand for resources worldwide is driving prices upwards and hence resource companies are drawn with increased risk appetite to challenging locations like Afghanistan. 

 Leadership? Generals, Politicians or Businessmen?

The response from the international community to the increased volumes of incidents has typically been to increase the rate and tempo of military operations, but Afghanistan is largely an insurgency operation and the success of mainstream military campaigns on insurgencies is destined to win the battles but lose the war. The ‘death from a thousand cuts’ for NATO forces will occur in Afghanistan. Topography and a lack of complex terrain such as built up areas and complex streetscapes will mean that it will take insurgents and factional groups longer, but in the end they can/ will win. History also supports this theory. Afghanistan has a strong history of occupying forces being allowed easy access to the Country and then slowly attritted until political will is lost.

The counter insurgency campaign needs to be replaced with a business insurgency campaign. This will lead to a greatly improved security situation as local economies grow and improved opportunities present themselves to districts and provinces. Stability and progress can be created by small to medium enterprise development; but also more rapidly through larger projects of economic value. The traction in the Afghan Ministry of Mines in developing the contracting architecture to tender resource blocks is encouraging.

Economic progress will dislocate and isolate anti government elements, factional groups and those who are criminally motivated. Communities will not be interested sponsoring nor supporting insecurity where there are livelihoods and standards of living that may be threatened.

War is far too important to leave to the generals, or to the politicians for that matter. In Afghanistan it is best left to the businessmen. 

Arab Spring- The New Heightened Awareness

The Arab Spring saw unprecedented geopolitical change in the Middle East and North Africa, but with it came increased instability and uncertainty in those directly affected countries. A related vibration radiated to other parts of Africa and, in the case of recent events, even as far as Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The changing socio-political dynamics in emerging markets and fragile environments presents newfound challenges for Australian companies currently operating in these regions as well as for those evaluating the associated risk versus reward payoffs in entering them. As Asia continues to fuel increasing demand for resources, companies may be increasingly indulgent in their risk appetite. This will include companies with capital looking at project based opportunities that regularly present themselves in post-conflict environments like Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo  and Afghanistan, as well as more remote, austere and fragile areas in Africa and across the South East Asian and South Pacific archipelago. 

We are currently observing  an arc of instability radiating outwards in North and East Africa, propelled by the catalyst of the Arab Spring, but with a much longer genesis. There are very few truly stable countries remaining in the North and Eastern regions of Africa but there are significant resource reserves. The littoral states are most attractive to investors and offer the most profound and enticing opportunities, given access to seaports that can easily install a seaborne supply chain.  

A decade ago Chinese and Malay resource companies moved into an immature African market space which are often benchmarked as being the original resource frontier markets. The main lesson learnt from these African experiences was sustainable profitability;  consequently exploration and production companies must pay more attention to the final frontiers of resource wealth; which are often immature in their governance systems and stability. These locations are receiving more attention from those resource sector companies with capital but no onstream projects. Increasing shareholder demands will place greater pressure on this tranche of companies to take greater risks in order to deliver greater returns. Players in the extractive industry must pay attention to these new and developing opportunities to remain ahead of the power curve given  the range of resources in frontier markets, particularly Africa and parts of Central Asia, that are not under exploration or in production.  True reward always accompanies true risk and this changing frontier brings many existing and some new challenges. 

Countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Ghana, Sudan, Code d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone are increasingly seeking to develop deals and concessions with Western domiciled companies that that have a proven track record in project delivery, high standards of safety, and competency in managing local stakeholders and communities with appropriate corporate social responsibility programs. They have learned, through experience and research, that non Western Companies do not necessarily conduct their projects with the same sensitivity and corporate social responsibility nor do they offer opportunities for local industry participation as being commonplace in their projects. There is, therefore, an increasing demand for the services and support of Western based and Western principled companies. The outcomes of events like the Arab Spring, political instability in Cote d’Ivoire and elections in Iraq, all of which dislocate ‘old regimes’, are likely to further this demand trend.

For those companies planning to operate in this environment, there are a myriad of challenges that should be mapped, resourced and proactively managed. These can be summarised as follows:

1. Ungoverned Spaces (Political Terrain)
·         Typically an ungoverned space appears where there are contested or porous borders or countries with immature governments and political systems. This creates risk for the business practices of any international entity operating within that country’s borders. Critical to managing this risk is effective business intelligence that operates as part of a company’s early warning radar. Threat and Vulnerability Assessments offer a better quality optic that creates improved visibility and awareness across the widest disciplines including stakeholder interactions, social, cultural and political influencing factors as well as the prevailing security and health environments.
·         During the Arab Spring, many resource companies were caught unaware of the emergence of political instability and consequently the rapidly developing ungovernable spaces. Libya, for example, saw widespread regional looting of international organisations from criminal groups that presented themselves as being ‘rebels’. On occasion, this manifested into personal security risks to international and local staff. In some instances, Unity Resources Group (Unity) were requested to advise, prepare, treat and evacuate employees and families within 24 hours from the most remote of environments. This was far from ideal from an operational and cost perspective, let alone the potential trauma that was created for valued employees and their families. Many companies were underprepared and hence fell  to their lowest level of preparation; thus paying not just the real financial costs but also suffering irreparable image and reputation damage as local staff were left behind and projects were abandoned and suspended. Many have still to re-staff and recover their projects.
·         Beyond operational intelligence and the threat of ungoverned spaces, associated criminality, lack of infrastructure and rapidly changing geographical and cultural environments all require a more complete preparatory view prior to final investment decisions. We are increasingly dealing with clients that are assessing investments with significant potential (theoretical) returns yet have little experience operating in some of these challenging environments. Navigating through the opaque operating environments in frontier markets requires a sound plan, a well designed and produced road map and a robust business compass. It is then necessary to develop and conduct projects with exceptional resilience and recoverability plans.

2. Security against Terrorism (Human Terrain)
·         For businesses operating in fragile and demanding environments, challenges often emerge due to the prevalence of internationals coupled with unregulated and often lawless swathes of geography and the associated highly complex supply chains. In many countries, resource rich areas are common targets of terrorist, factional and clan based groups, both on and offshore. Insecurity , including piracy, is a major issue that any company should have considered and if required developed a risk mitigation strategy for.
·         Unlike other companies entering these environments, resource companies are often highly visible in terms of their physical footprint and lines of supply and communications. There are susceptible to being targeted. Indeed, incumbent governments in these countries  often actively promote the foreign investment, due to the potential economic benefits and political gravitas. Therefore an unintentional consequence of this activity is making the project a ‘trophy target’ for terrorist activity.
·         Piracy is a growing concern along the very linear offshore supply lines that offer the most affordability for large volume movements of commodities. It is predicated that piracy will continue to grow and expand across the Pacific and Indian Oceans as exploration and production volumes grow from Africa and Asia.  Funded through the ongoing payment of ransoms, pirates also have become more sophisticated and are extending their activities. We are noticing piracy events moving from the traditional high risk locations such as South China Sea, Malacca Straits and the Gulf of Aden. This upward and outward trend has shown piracy is now prevalent deep inside the Indian Ocean and on the fringes of the Persian Gulf. It remains a major threat to the cost base of providing resources to customers.

3. Logistics (Supply Chain)
·         Due to underdeveloped infrastructure and utilities, Africa can be logistically complex. The supply chain for importing and exporting resources is often convoluted and therefore high risk as it traverses ungoverned spaces that commonly harbour issue motivated groups, criminals and anti government elements.
·         Cross border movements require a detailed understanding of stakeholders and liaison networks, to mitigate the risk of convoys and staff being impounded and significant time delays.
·         Quality and quantity inside the supply chain are often misaligned with demand, and we also regularly notice that speed and reliability are often below expectations.
·         Supply chains can be installed that are successful and these should be mapped and designed as part of one cohesive and coherent market entry strategy but constantly adapted to remain ahead of the morphing environmental factors: including social, political, economic, security, health, legal and environmental  factors.

4. Social, Cultural and the Environment
·         These disciplines extend to religion, beliefs, community ties and inter/ intra community frictions, climactic and environmental changes and flora and fauna. Understanding these sensitivities and how to manage the needs and expectations of the local community and authorities can make the difference between harmonious relations with a predictable and manageable operating environment and a project which lacks local support.
·         Seeking the endorsement of local communities as well as offering opportunities for local industry is core to developing resilient business practices and delivering successful and profitable projects and programs. Community outreach and community based safety and security can also act as the adhesive of a successful project delivery apparatus.

These operational threats and challenges, while not unusual or unique, need to be analysed closely and a detailed plan developed prior to entering a territory.

Solutions: Address the Challenges Before You Arrive

Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted- Napoleon

Research, analysis and due diligence is critical to inform the early and preparatory phases of a project. Just as you undertake comprehensive geological, engineering and technical business case reviews and due diligence, the same must be applied to the physics of the operating environment. For smaller companies, the initial challenge often resides in finding the right resources to undertake the due diligence. In most cases, safety, health, environment, security and business intelligence consultants who have an on-the-ground presence with many years of experience in these regions are a very cost effective approach to undertaking the relevant due diligence. The opportunity cost of skipping due diligence is regularly profound and acute in terms of financial loss. Small to mid cap resource sector companies can seldom afford an initial error in the project review, development and rollout.

By undertaking appropriate due diligence and then preparing the right risk mitigation strategies, a company will in many cases reduce its overall operational costs once in market; and certainly sidestep  the real costs of poor due diligence and a semi-informed and semi-prepared market entry strategy.

A forward focus should take account of all the known variables on a particular project and also prepare for known and possible unknown contingencies, the branches and sequels of events and the associated second order effects. This widest and deepest outlook will ensure that a company is well prepared and does not need to be incident reactive. Incident based response generates additional costs by demanding additional surge services as well as issue management across stakeholder groups. In many cases feeble planning results in project failure.

The Approach - Creating a Refined Threat and Vulnerability Assessment

Stability is a precondition to development. Stability can be created and influenced at the project level.  Proactive risk mitigation and aligned outreach, liaison and diligence before entering the operational environment is a critical step that ensures the best chance of developing project stability. Risk mitigation strategies should be informed by comprehensive threat and vulnerability assessments that identify and treat risks across a spectrum of disciplines including social and cultural, technological, environmental, political, legal and logistical (including the supply chain) issues. A company should apply experienced resources (internal or consultancy based) across all of these disciplines (at a minimum) to deliver data and information that are fused together to provide contextualised intelligence to assist management decision making.

A highly refined Threat and Vulnerability Assessment permits risks to be identified, understood and then enables a comprehensive strategy to be developed prior to market entry. By targeting efforts and resources toward obtaining the information and insight required to fill knowledge gaps, businesses can inform and increase productivity and minimise the excessive use of time and resources. In order to gain transparency on critical issues surrounding the operations and logistics of operations in high risk locations it is essential that companies collect data sets across the full range of functional areas prior to market entry.

Resource companies must work to reposition market nuances into business advantages and seek specific business intelligence while navigating the opaque environment of foreign and complex markets. These environments are dynamic and require constant fine tuning and adjustment. It is, therefore, vital that foreign businesses commit to the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of all systems and procedures and apply appropriate feedback loops into a continual improvement process.

The Critical Element – Multiplying the Value of Your Investment through Proactive use of Human Terrain

So what are the critical elements of a threat and vulnerability assessment? Understanding the organisations that can influence the success (or otherwise) of your operations are stakeholders that contribute to the Human Terrain.

Human Terrain Systems create the conditions for establishing and shaping the socio-cultural framework to enable investment and operational planning, preparation, execution and assessment. This model focuses on developing a fully integrated civil affairs program to engage the community while providing security, medical, safety, cultural awareness and incident and emergency management services, all of which, when fused, deliver successful project outcomes in line with client goals. Civil affairs and the associated outreach will seek to reassure and build both trust and confidence that the issues, concerns and needs of the community and its stakeholders are addressed. This includes the application of local industry participation, including for suppliers and employees that promotes greater economic progression.

Understanding the effect of investment through the lens of the local culture and psyche should be foremost in planning and consideration prior to every final investment decision. A good business model for resource companies should incentivise the local population towards the project, thus giving the human infrastructure both the value and the reason to be a supportive alliance.

Again Human Terrain Systems are researched and designed as early as possible for once a company has extended and promoted a certain approach it is difficult to change direction. Concurrent due diligence of partners, suppliers and customers, combined with community liaison and outreach programs prior to market entry can minimise the threat posed by a resource company moving into an area of instability and neutralise or marginalise confrontation and conflict. Civil affairs and human terrain teams (HTTs) regularly lead community based security and safety programs which complement traditional safety, medical and security systems. As well as acting in a promotional capacity for the project they provide a useful feedback loop. Outreach initiatives, such as ‘Town Hall’ sessions with local populations, that are led by HTTs additionally provide access to knowledge and relationships that allow companies to address challenges through a different prism and using different angles that are typically known by local populations. This enables a greater understanding and more options to overcome them. Local endorsement leads to broader local support and, ultimately, contributes to project success.

To successfully develop a tapestry to inform executive decision making, information should be sought from trusted and proven sources in the area developed during the preparatory stage but reviewed, evolved and modified through the life of projects. Sources are typically drawn from across the community, businesses, local suppliers and providers, law enforcement, international community groups and non government agencies  and the media.

Below are stakeholder groups that are typical to a resource project that companies may need to be cognisant of:

Domestic Business Sector
·         Particularly within the energy and infrastructure industry
·         Within local and foreign companies operating in the country
·         Chambers of Commerce and National Business Institutions and Councils

Law Enforcement
·         Public Security Forces
·         Investigative Police Force
·         International military, security and policing bodies
·         Other Commissions
·         The Justice architecture

The Media
·         Investigative journalists both in-country and globally with a focus on local and regional politics and business relations
·         Some people in remote communities may be illiterate and audio messaging takes an increased importance as does learning through visual imagery

Local Suppliers
·         Procurement agents and those offering supply chain solutions
·         Freight forwarders and brokers
·         Competitor advice can complete and round out stakeholder analyses

Diplomatic, Community and NGOs
·         Information & Analysis Services both in-country and in other jurisdictions where the country maintains an accessible diplomatic presence
·         Embassies  and High Commissions and international organisations such as the UN and the World Bank.
·         Primarily international human rights organisations that have been monitoring local activities
·         Local community, cultural and religious groups
·         Inter country chambers of commerce and industry groups

·         Senior level officials in the following typical Ministries:
o   Ministry of Petroleum/ Oil and Mineral/ Natural Resources
o   Ministry of Commerce and regional Chambers of Commerce
o   Ministry of Finance
o   Ministry of Foreign Affairs
o   Ministry of Interior/ Police
o   Ministry of Defence
o   Customs and Immigration agencies
o   Ministry of Labour

Academia and those with Influential social status individuals/families or clans
·         Academic scholars in-country and abroad including Diaspora
·         National Universities and Professors in the local area
·         Legal services
·         Local legal firms and international law firms operating in-country
·         Influential and successful families

Prepared for Business Resilience
As outlined, a successful development project in high risk areas inherently creates stability, despite environmental challenges and pressures. Incidents and events can overshadow and threaten stability and as a result contingency plans are critical to guaranteeing business continuity. Business resilience and recoverability from incidents and events is vital to maintaining both the profitability and the image and reputation of an organisation in unstable and challenging environments. This demands intelligent and thorough planning and preparedness.

Not all risks can be foreseen, but due diligence, research and analysis followed by sound systems and procedures for implementation can ensure that incident, emergency and crisis management plans are both thorough, rehearsed and therefore are robust.
Other supporting systems including safety, security and emergency management, health and medical and environmental response and recovery all need to be integrated into the business resilience architecture.


The events of 2011 have created an arc of instability radiating out from North and East Africa and should serve as a reminder to resource companies that many of the frontiers containing significant resource holdings are not without their inherent challenges; that often change at no notice. With careful preparation and planning and a deliberate approach to due diligence which includes operational, social, cultural and environmental considerations, resource companies greatly improve their chance of success of establishing sustainable and profitable operations.