Conflict Between Turkey and Armed Kurdish Groups
Middle East and North Africa
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of Kurds in Turkey
KURDISTAN WORKERS PARTY (PKK)
Main group involved
Number of years since the insurgency began
The Turkish military regularly targets Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in Iraq and in 2018, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would launch a formal operation against Kurds in Iraq. The Iraqi government has issued formal complaints against Turkish incursions into its sovereign territory. In January 2019, the Turkish government claimed that separatist Kurdish militants tied to the PKK conducted an attack on a Turkish army base in northern Iraq that resulted in damage to military equipment and no casualties.
After U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced in December 2018 that the United States would begin withdrawing troops from Syria, Syrian Kurds, who have largely fought as members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), expressed concerns that Turkey would increase its attacks against them. Ilham Ahmed, the leader of the Syrian Kurds’ largest political organization, asked western governments to create an international observer force along the Syria-Turkey border. In January 2019, Trump threatened to sanction Turkey should the Turkish military attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton indicated that the United States would continue to seek reassurances from Erdogan that the Syrian Kurds would not be attacked. As the Syrian civil war winds down, Erdogan and Trump have continued to discuss options for establishing a safe zone and whether the United States will retrieve the weapons it provided to the Syrian Kurds.
Approximately thirty million Kurds live in the Middle East—primarily in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—and the Kurds comprise nearly one-fifth of Turkey’s population of seventy-nine million. The PKK, established by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978, has waged an insurgency since 1984 against Turkish authorities for greater cultural and political rights, primarily with the objective of establishing an independent Kurdish state. The ongoing conflict has resulted in nearly forty thousand deaths.
Under the Erdogan regime, popular discontent has steadily increased, as seen in the June 2013 Gezi park protests and a July 2016 coup attempt, but tensions have also risen between Turkish authorities and Kurdish groups. In particular, the PKK, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (a left-wing pro-Kurdish party), and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) (the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) with ties to the PKK) have increasingly agitated against the government, conducting numerous attacks against Turkish authorities in the southeast.
In July 2015, a two-year cease-fire between Turkey’s government and the PKK collapsed following a suicide bombing by suspected self-proclaimed Islamic State militants that killed nearly thirty Kurds near the Syrian border. Shortly thereafter, in October 2015, Turkey’s deadliest attack occurred at a peace rally in Ankara; Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK)—an offshoot of the PKK—claimed responsibility. Following the coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan cracked down on suspected coup conspirators, arrested an estimated fifty thousand people, and increased air strikes on PKK militants in southeastern Turkey. He also began conducting military operations in Syria against the YPG and the self-declared Islamic State.
Beyond Turkey, Syrian Kurdish fighters have been combating the Islamic State, largely as part of the SDF—an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by the United States—and have created a semi-autonomous region in Northern Syria. In September 2014, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called for the Kurds to start an “all-out resistance” in the fight against the Islamic State; later that month, the Kurdish-controlled town of Kobani was besieged and eventually captured, resulting in the exodus of tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds to Turkey. The ensuing battle for Kobani resulted in more than 1,600 deaths, but the Kurdish-led SDF forces eventually regained control of the city in January 2015. The SDF also liberated the strategic Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State in August 2016, though YPG forces (part of the SDF coalition) clashed with Turkish-backed rebels attempting to gain control.
After the YPG and SDF consolidated control over territory captured from the Islamic State in northern Syria, Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian militias, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), moved to recapture cities and expel the Kurds. Turkish troops and the FSA launched an assault on the city of Afrin in January 2018, eventually capturing the city in March 2018. Turkey continues to threaten assaults on other Kurdish-held areas inside Syria, including Manbij, and despite sharing a common enemy, many of Turkey’s air strikes have targeted Kurdish fighters rather than Islamic State militants.
The alliance of Kurdish fighters has also converged in Iraq, where the Islamic State had advanced toward the autonomous Kurdish region in the northern part of the country. The Peshmerga—armed fighters who protect Iraqi Kurdistan—have joined with Iraqi security forces and received arms and financial assistance from the United States.
If the Kurds do succeed in establishing an independent state in Syria amid the chaos gripping the region, it could accelerate secessionist movements in other Kurdish areas of the Middle East. Heightened terrorist activity by Kurdish separatists is also a growing concern for the United States— and its allies—which designated the PKK a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
U.S.-Turkey relations have faltered since Erdogan renewed calls for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen—a Turkish political and religious leader in self-imposed exile in the United States—whom Erdogan believes to be an organizer of the July 2016 coup. Relations have also suffered because of the United States’ close relationship with Kurdish groups—the United States continues to supply arms to Peshmerga troops fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and has provided arms to the Syrian YPG—and the increasingly close relationship between Russia and Turkey.
Criminal Violence in Mexico
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
U.S. foreign aid
MORE THAN 200
Drug trafficking cells
Estimated number of deaths since 2006 due to organized criminal violence
Mexican law enforcement and the military have struggled to curb crime-related violence. In 2018, the number of drug-related homicides in Mexico rose to 33,341, a 15 percent increase from the previous year—and a record high. Moreover, Mexican cartels killed at least 130 candidates and politicians in the lead-up to Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections.
While on the campaign trail, then-candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (often referred to as AMLO) proposed several strategies to combat crime-related violence. After winning the election and assuming office in December 2018, AMLO announced the creation of a new National Guard (a hybrid civilian police and military force) to fight cartels.
In the 1980s, Mexico’s crime groups and drug traffickers became organized, assigning distinct regional areas of control for each group and establishing networks and trafficking routes. However, as production and distribution increased, the groups began fighting for territorial control and access to markets, leading to an increase in violence across Mexico.
The Mexican government officially declared war on criminal organizations in 2006, when former President Felipe Calderon launched an initiative to combat cartels using military force. In 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto revised the Calderon government’s strategy, shifting efforts away from violent exchanges and toward improving law enforcement capacity and supporting public safety.
However, after the Sinaloa Cartel’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested in 2014, re-arrested in 2016, and finally extradited to the United States in 2017, a power vacuum was created within the Sinaloa Cartel, resulting in an accompanying increase in violence between rival factions seeking new territory and influence. Moreover, despite an initial decrease in homicides following Peña Nieto’s reforms, Mexico continued to struggle with corruption and crime-related violence. By 2016, drug-related homicides had increased by 22 percent, with more than twenty thousand killed, and in 2017 a mass grave containing the remains of more than 250 victims of crime-related violence was uncovered in Veracruz State. Since 2006, crime-related violence has resulted in an estimated 150,000 deaths.
Recognizing widespread assertions that the use of military force has only increased the level of crime-related violence in Mexico—and accusations that the military has committed human rights abuses and carried out extrajudicial killings—then–presidential candidate AMLO promised on his campaign trail to revolutionize the fight against cartels and revert to a civilian-led police force.
In 2007, the George W. Bush administration and Calderon government launched the Merida Initiative to improve U.S.-Mexico cooperation on security and rule of law issues in Mexico, and support for the initiative has continued under the Donald J. Trump administration. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Mexican cartels represent the greatest drug-related threat, supplying heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines, and other drugs, to the United States. Criminal and drug trafficking organizations threaten to undermine the strength and legitimacy of the Mexican government, an important U.S. regional partner, as well as harm civilian populations in both countries.
Middle East and North Africa
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
New units in West Bank settlements announced in 2017
Unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip
Estimated number of deaths during the fifty-day war of June/July 2014
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip conducted weekly demonstrations between March 30 and May 15, 2018, at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The final protest coincided with the seventieth anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus that accompanied Israeli independence, as well as the relocation of the U.S. embassy to the contested city of Jerusalem. While most of the protesters were peaceful, some stormed the perimeter fence and threw rocks and other objects. According to the United Nations, 183 demonstrators were killed and over 6,000 wounded by live ammunition.
Also in May, fighting broke out between Hamas and the Israeli military in what became the worst period of violence since 2014. Before both sides reached a cease-fire, militants in Gaza fired over one hundred rockets into Israel and Israel responded with strikes on more than fifty targets in Gaza during the twenty-four–hour flare-up.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, primarily as a conflict over territory. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Holy Land was divided into three parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip. Successive wars resulted in minor shifts of territory until the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel because of Israel’s occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The conflict was calmed by the Camp David Accords in 1979, which bound Egypt and Israel in a peace treaty.
Yet once the wars over territory were over, a surge in violence and uprisings among the Palestinians began. The first intifada, in 1987, was an uprising comprising hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 1993 Oslo Accords mediated the conflict, setting up a framework for the Palestinians to govern themselves and establishing relations between the newly established Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government. In 2000, inspired by continuing Palestinian grievances, the second intifada began and was much bloodier than the first. After a wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in 2015, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the Oslo Accords.
In 2013, the United States attempted to revive the peace process between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. However, peace talks were disrupted when the Fatah—the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party—formed a unity government with its rival faction, Hamas, in 2014. The rivals’ reconciliation process has proceeded haltingly since, with the two signing an additional agreement in October 2017.
Since taking office, the Donald J. Trump administration has made achieving an Israeli-Palestinian deal a priority, but has yet to release its long-awaited proposal for a peace process. Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, reversing longstanding U.S. policy, was met with applause among the Israeli leadership but condemned by Palestinian leaders and others in the Middle East and Europe. Israel considers the “complete and united Jerusalem” its capital, but Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their future state.
Prior to the most recent wave of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, there had been many outbreaks of violence and instability. In the summer of 2014, clashes in the Palestinian territories precipitated a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas in which Hamas fired nearly three thousand rockets at Israel and Israel retaliated with a major offensive in Gaza. The skirmish ended in late August 2014 with a cease-fire deal brokered by Egypt, but only after 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians were killed.
There is concern that a third intifada could break out and that renewed tensions will escalate into large-scale violence. The United States has an interest in protecting the security of its long-term ally Israel and achieving a lasting deal between Israel and the Palestinian territories, which would improve regional security.
Boko Haram in Nigeria
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
MORE THAN 37,500
Number of people killed since May 2011
Estimated number of displaced people in the Lake Chad Basin
Estimated number of Nigerian refugees
After a peak in Boko Haram–related violence in 2014 and 2015, the number of casualties attributed to the group fell dramatically. The Nigerian military—with assistance from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger—has pushed Boko Haram out of several provinces in northeastern Nigeria, but the group retains control over some villages and pockets of territory and continues to launch deadly suicide attacks and abduct civilians, mostly women and children. In February 2018, more than one hundred students were kidnapped by a faction of Boko Haram known as Islamic State West Africa. They were released a little more than a month later.
The conflict has been primarily contained in the Muslim north, particularly in Borno state, but has displaced millions of people in the region. In June 2018, the Nigerian Army announced that two thousand internally displaced people were to return home. Security forces combatting the militants have also been accused of severe human rights abuses.
Nigeria’s ongoing battle with insurgent groups and continued government corruption threaten the stability and political integrity of Africa’s most populous state. Since 2011, Boko Haram—one of the largest Islamist militant groups in Africa—has conducted terrorist attacks on religious and political groups, local police, and the military, as well as indiscriminately attacking civilians in busy markets and villages. The kidnapping of over two hundred girls from their school in April 2014 drew international attention to the ongoing threat from Boko Haram and the government’s inability to contain it. Following negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, brokered by the International Committee for the Red Cross, 103 girls have since been released.
President Muhammadu Buhari, the former military dictator who defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, was elected in 2015 on a counterterrorism platform, but economic and political challenges in Nigeria have complicated the fight against Boko Haram. In addition to the military conflict, continuing uneven distribution of oil revenue, high levels of corruption, and violence in the Middle Belt region pose significant challenges to Nigerian security.
Links between Boko Haram and other Islamist groups could further intensify regional security concerns. After the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015, the United States boosted its military assistance and deployed three hundred troops to Nigeria in an effort to help in the fight against Boko Haram. As the largest African oil producer, the stability of Nigeria is important to regional security and U.S. economic interests.
Conflict Between India and Pakistan
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
118,930 SQUARE MILES
Total disputed territory
Length of Line of Control
Number of disputed territories
With continued violence in Kashmir and a heightened threat of terrorist activity by Pakistan-based militant groups, tensions and concerns over a serious military confrontation between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan remain high. In August 2019, following a deployment of tens of thousands of additional troops and paramilitary forces to the region, the Indian government moved to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, removing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. India-administered Kashmir remains under lockdown, with internet and phone services intermittently cutoff and thousands of people detained.
In February 2019, an attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least forty soldiers. The attack, claimed by Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, was the deadliest attack in Kashmir in three decades. Two weeks later, India claimed to have conducted air strikes targeting a terrorist training camp inside Pakistani territory. Pakistan retaliated a day later with air strikes in Indian-administered Kashmir. The exchange escalated into an aerial engagement, during which Pakistan shot down two Indian military aircraft and captured an Indian pilot; the pilot was released two days later.
Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border, known as the Line of Control. Both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in response to attacks. An uptick in border skirmishes that began in late 2016 and continued into 2018 killed dozens and displaced thousands of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control.
In 2014, after India’s then newly elected Prime Minister Modi invited then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration, there were hopes that Modi’s government would pursue meaningful peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, after a brief period of optimism, relations turned sour once more when India canceled talks with Pakistan’s foreign minister in August 2014 after the Pakistani high commissioner in India met with Kashmiri separatist leaders. A series of openings continued throughout 2015, including an unscheduled December meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. This led to a meeting between national security advisors in Bangkok a few days later, where the Kashmir dispute was discussed. Later in December, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet with Prime Minister Sharif, the first visit of an Indian leader to Pakistan in more than a decade.
Momentum toward meaningful talks came to an end in September 2016, when armed militants attacked a remote Indian Army base in Uri, near the Line of Control, killing eighteen Indian soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Indian armed forces in decades. Indian officials accused Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with alleged ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence—Pakistan’s main intelligence agency—of being behind the attack. Later in September 2016, the Indian military announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” on terrorist camps inside Pakistani-controlled territory across the Line of Control, while the Pakistani military denied that any such operation had taken place.
Militants launched attacks in October 2017, against an Indian paramilitary camp near Srinagar, and in February 2018, against an Indian army base in the Jammu region, which killed five soldiers and a civilian. These attacks came amidst a period of increased cross-border shelling along the Line of Control, with more than three thousand reported violations in 2017 and nearly one thousand in the first half of 2018. Violent demonstrations and anti-India protests calling for an independent Kashmir also continued; over three hundred people including civilians, Indian security forces, and militants were killed in attacks and clashes in 2017. After months of Indian military operations targeting both Kashmiri militants and demonstrations, India announced in May 2018 that it would observe a cease-fire in Kashmir during the month of Ramadan for the first time in nearly two decades; operations resumed in June 2018. In May 2018, India and Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire along the disputed Kashmir border that would restore the terms of their 2003 agreement.
The diversion of jihadi fighters and proxy groups from Afghanistan to Kashmir threatens to further increase violence along the border. If another Mumbai 2008-style attack, where Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters rampaged through the city for four days, killing 164 people, were carried out by Pakistan’s militant proxies, it could trigger a severe military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed states.
The United States has identified South Asia as an epicenter of terrorism and religious extremism and therefore has an interest in ensuring regional stability, preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, and minimizing the potential of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
Instability in Venezuela
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela
Percentage of population in need of assistance
2019 projected inflation rate, average consumer prices
Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people flee the country every day, mostly on foot. In April 2019, after years of denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis and refusing to allow foreign aid to enter the country—calling aid shipments a political ploy by the United States—Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro allowed the entry of a shipment of emergency supplies from the Red Cross. Venezuela’s infrastructure has been poorly maintained, recently leading to a series of country-wide blackouts in March 2019 that left millions without power.
Maduro was reelected to a second six-year term in May 2018, despite boycotts and accusations of fraud in a widely condemned election, including by a group of fourteen neighboring countries known as the Lima Group, and was officially sworn in to office in January 2019. Two weeks later, on January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro’s election illegitimate and opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced that he would assume office as interim president until free and fair elections could be held. Guaidó was quickly recognized as interim president by the United States, Canada, most of the European Union, and the Organization of American States, but Maduro retains the support of several major countries including China, Cuba, Russia, and Turkey.
The resulting political standoff has seen an increase in U.S. sanctions against the Maduro government, including targeting oil shipments to Cuba—Maduro has increasingly relied on Cuban military and intelligence support to stay in power—as well as discussions about a potential military intervention. Russia, meanwhile, continues to support the Maduro government, sending Russian troops to Venezuela in March 2019 and helping the government evade sanctions on the oil industry. China has continued to back the Maduro government as well, including offering to help rebuild the national power grid.
Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1998 and, because Venezuela is a petrostate with the largest oil reserves in the world, his socialist government was able to successfully implement its plan to provide subsidized goods and services to the Venezuelan people. However, years of economic mismanagement and corruption under Chavez led to Venezuela’s almost complete dependence on oil exports, and the collapse of global oil prices in 2014 led to a rapid economic decline.
After Chavez’s death in 2013, then–Vice President Maduro assumed the presidency and was subsequently elected to office. His government attempted to address the economic crisis by printing money. This policy resulted in hyperinflation (the International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation could hit 10 million percent in 2019). By 2014, large-scale anti-government protests erupted across the country and, in 2015, voters expressed their dissatisfaction by electing the first opposition-controlled National Assembly in two decades.
Since the situation deteriorated and the crisis escalated in 2015, an estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled the country; Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean host approximately 2.7 million refugees, with nearly 1.5 million in Colombia. Estimates from the United Nations suggest that these numbers will increase, with 5.4 million projected to leave the country by the end of 2019. The exodus has also caused a regional humanitarian crisis, as neighboring governments are unable to absorb refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, because the government has been unable to provide social services, Venezuelans face severe food and medicine shortages, as well as the continuing spread of infectious diseases.
As the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela escalates and the political situation deteriorates, the exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries is expected to continue. The strain on aid groups and regional governments to support refugees and asylum seekers may further expand what has already become a regional crisis. The United States has stated its interest in mitigating the humanitarian crisis and preventing further destabilization of the region.
Civil War in Libya
Middle East and North Africa
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Registered refugees and asylum-seekers
Estimated number of internally displaced persons
Number of competing power centers
The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) declared a state of emergency in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli in September 2018, less than a week after a UN cease-fire went into effect. Attempts to create a unity government have met with limited success as the House of Representatives (HoR)—based in Libya’s east and a key supporter of Libyan National Army’s (LNA) leader General Khalifa Haftar—and the GNA compete for power. Both governing bodies have created their own central banks and have consolidated control over oil fields. In May 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron convened a meeting between Haftar, GNA leader Fayez Seraj, and parliamentary leaders to discuss an end to the conflict and future elections. Though the rival groups agreed to hold elections in December 2018, UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said elections would be postponed until the spring of 2019.
Rival armed groups, including militia groups loyal to the LNA’s Haftar—a Tobruk-backed former Qaddafi loyalist—and the GNA’s security forces have continued to fight over access to and control of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), as well as regional oil fields. In December 2018, the NOC closed Libya’s largest oil field, El Sharara, due to security concerns; the LNA has since declared that the field is secure and ready to resume operations, but NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla refused to restart production in February 2019, stating that the field was still unsafe due to militant activity.
The presence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which established a foothold in the country in February 2015 and quickly gained control of the coastal city of Sirte—formerly the group’s most significant stronghold outside of Syria and Iraq—has further complicated the struggle for control. In July 2018, Haftar announced that the LNA had recaptured the city of Derna, the last outpost of the Islamic State militants in eastern Libya. However, the group continues to operate throughout the country and conducted an attack on Libya’s foreign ministry in December 2018.
Libya has struggled to rebuild state institutions since the ouster and subsequent death of former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011. Libya’s transitional government ceded authority to the newly elected General National Congress (GNC) in July 2012, but the GNC faced numerous challenges over the next two years, including the September 2012 attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the spread of the Islamic State and other armed groups throughout the country.
In May 2014, Haftar launched Operation Dignity, a campaign conducted by the LNA to attack Islamist militant groups across eastern Libya, including in Benghazi. To counter this movement, Islamist militants and armed groups—including Ansar al-Sharia— formed a coalition called Libya Dawn. Eventually, fighting broke out at Tripoli’s international airport between the Libya Dawn coalition, which controlled Tripoli and much of western Libya, and the Dignity coalition, which controlled parts of Cyrenaica and Benghazi in eastern Libya, and a civil war emerged.
The battle for control over Libya crosses tribal, regional, political, and even religious lines. Each coalition has created governing institutions and named military chiefs—and each has faced internal fragmentation and division. In an effort to find a resolution to the conflict and create a unity government, then-UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernandino Leon, followed by Martin Kobler, facilitated a series of talks between the Tobruk-based HoR and the Tripoli-based GNC. The talks resulted in the creation of Libyan Political Agreement and the UN-supported GNA. The GNA has continued to face obstacles to creating a stable, unified government in Libya.
Taking advantage of the widespread political instability, armed Islamist groups, including Ansar al-Sharia—the terrorist group allegedly responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in 2012—and the Islamic State, have used the country as a hub to coordinate broader regional violence, further complicating efforts to create a unity government.
As a result of the continued fighting, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that more than 217,000 people have been internally displaced and approximately 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya.
The United States, European allies, and the United Nations continued to express concern over the permanent fracture of Libya as armed militant groups have tried to divide the country along political and tribal lines. Moreover, in the absence of a primary governing body, migration and human trafficking have remained problematic.
A member of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC), Libyan oil revenues constitute more than 80 percent of Libya’s total exports. As armed groups continue to fight over oil fields and restrict production, concerns have also increased over whether the country will be able to support itself economically.
War in Yemen
Middle East and North Africa
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of people in need of assistance
Estimated number of people killed since 2015
Estimated number of displaced people
The Saudi-led coalition has continued to wage its campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. In June 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to retake the coastal region of Hodeida, further worsening the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations, which appointed a new special envoy for Yemen in 2018, has attempted to broker a cease-fire.
The Houthis have responded to Saudi airstrikes with missile attacks on Saudi Arabian infrastructure and territory, including oil tankers and facilities and international airports. Further complicating the civil war, secessionist groups in Yemen’s south, supported by the United Arab Emirates, have clashed with the UN-recognized government forces based in Aden.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when Houthi insurgents—Shiite rebels with links to Iran and a history of rising up against the Sunni government—took control of Yemen’s capital and largest city, Sana’a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government. Following failed negotiations, the rebels seized the presidential palace in January 2015, leading President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to resign. Beginning in March 2015, a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of economic isolation and air strikes against the Houthi insurgents, with U.S. logistical and intelligence support.
Hadi rescinded his resignation and returned to Aden in September 2015, and fighting has continued since. A UN effort to broker peace talks between allied Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Yemeni government stalled in the summer of 2016. As of December 2017, Hadi has reportedly been residing in exile in Saudi Arabia.
In July 2016, the Houthis and the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in 2011 after nearly thirty years in power, announced the formation of a “political council” to govern Sana’a and much of northern Yemen. However, in December 2017, Saleh broke with the Houthis and called for his followers to take up arms against them. Saleh was killed and his forces defeated within two days.
The intervention of regional powers in Yemen’s conflict, including Iran and Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, threatens to draw the country into the broader Sunni-Shia divide. Numerous Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels have been intercepted in the Gulf of Aden by a Saudi naval blockade in place since April 2015. In response, Iran has dispatched its own naval convoy, which further risks military escalation between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the conflict continues to take a heavy toll on Yemeni civilians, making Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that the civilian casualty toll has exceeded 15,000 killed or injured. Twenty-two million Yemenis remain in need of assistance, eight million are at risk of famine, and a cholera outbreak has affected over one million people. All sides of the conflict are reported to have violated human rights and international humanitarian law.
Separate from the ongoing civil war, the United States continues counterterrorism operations in Yemen, relying mainly on airstrikes to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and militants associated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In 2016, the United States conducted an estimated 35 strikes in Yemen; in 2017, it conducted about 130. In April 2016, the United States deployed a small team of forces to advise and assist Saudi-led troops to retake territory from AQAP. In January 2017, a U.S. Special Operations Forces raid in central Yemen killed one U.S. service member, several suspected AQAP-affiliated fighters, and an unknown number of Yemeni civilians.
The United States is deeply invested in combating terrorism and violent extremism in Yemen, having collaborated with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Since 2002, the United States has carried out over two hundred strikes in Yemen. While Houthi rebels do not pose a direct threat to the United States, their attacks on Saudi Arabian infrastructure and territory threaten an important U.S. partner.
Europe and Eurasia
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Year territorial dispute began
1,700 SQUARE MILES
Approximate total disputed area
Percent of population ethnically Armenian
Nagorno-Karabakh—the border region claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan—is at risk of renewed hostilities due to the failure of mediation efforts, increased militarization, and frequent cease-fire violations. In October 2017, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Geneva under the auspices of the Minsk Group, an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–led mediation group, beginning a series of talks on a possible settlement of the conflict.
Over the past decade, artillery shelling and minor skirmishes between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops have caused hundreds of deaths. Early April 2016 witnessed the most intense fighting since 1994, killing dozens and producing more than three hundred casualties. After four days of fighting, the two sides announced that they had agreed on a cease-fire.
In the 1920’s, the Soviet government established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region—where 95 percent of the population is ethnically Armenian—within Azerbaijan. Under Bolshevik rule, fighting between the two countries was kept in check, but as the Soviet Union began to collapse, so did its grip on Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh legislature passed a resolution to join Armenia despite the region’s legal location within Azerbaijan’s borders. As the Soviet Union was dissolving in 1991, the autonomous region officially declared independence. War erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region, leaving roughly 30,000 casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees. By 1993, Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied 20 percent of the surrounding Azerbaijani territory. In 1994, Russia brokered a cease-fire which has remained in place since.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been a frozen conflict for more than a decade, but tensions have remained high since a breakdown in talks that followed the April 2016 violence, with repeated cease-fire violations. Negotiation and mediation efforts, primarily led by the Minsk Group, have failed to produce a permanent solution to the conflict. The Minsk Group was created in 1994 to address the dispute and is co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France. The co-chairs organize summits between the leaders of the two countries and hold individual meetings. The group has successfully negotiated cease-fires, but the territorial issues remain as intractable as ever.
Because Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian military forces are positioned close to each other and have little to no communication, there is a high risk that inadvertent military action could lead to an escalation of the conflict. The two sides also have domestic political interests that could cause their respective leaders to launch an attack.
Without successful mediation efforts, cease-fire violations and renewed tensions threaten to reignite a military conflict between the countries and destabilize the South Caucasus region. This could also disrupt oil and gas exports from the region, since Azerbaijan, which produces about 800,000 barrels of oil per day, is a significant oil and gas exporter to Europe and Central Asia. Russia has promised to defend Armenia, Turkey has pledged to support Azerbaijan, and Iran has a large Azeri minority, which could escalate a crisis and entangle actors involved.
Destabilization of Mali
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of Malian refugees
Estimated number of internally displaced persons
Total UN personnel
Concerns are growing that militant groups in Mali are increasing in number and strength, with violence spreading across the country and across borders. In January 2019, local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), claimed a series of attacks on UN peacekeepers, soldiers from both Mali and Burkina Faso, and local militants.
JNIM—which formed in March 2017 and was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department in September 2018—and affiliated militant groups have expanded their influence, spreading from the north into central Mali by capitalizing on communal tensions, and has continued to carry out attacks in the capital, Bamako. A branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, has also appeared, compounding concerns over the militant threat.
In August 2018, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won re-election in a runoff vote that was marred by violence in the run-up to both rounds of the election. In addition to a deteriorating security environment, the Malian government continues to struggle to implement the June 2015 peace agreement it signed with the Coordination of Azawad Movements and a coalition of Tuareg rebel groups. Major components of the deal—including steps to increase autonomy and political representation in the north, bring development, and integrate rebel groups into the Malian security forces—remain unfulfilled.
After gaining independence from France in 1960, Mali endured decades of instability. While the majority of the population resides in the south, Tuareg and Arab groups in the sparsely populated north rebelled against the government in 1963, 1990, and 2006, attempting to gain autonomy for the region they named Azawad. Numerous groups, including Islamist militant groups, have taken advantage of the government’s inability to assert control over territory in the north by continuously asserting territorial claims and attacking Malian government and international security forces, undermining the government and threatening to destabilize neighboring countries.
The current crisis in Mali began in early 2012 when a Tuareg separatist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), in the north rebelled for a fourth time. The MNLA was backed by a collection of Islamist militant groups—Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa—and together the groups moved to take over territory in the north. In March 2012, then-President Amadou Toumani Toure was deposed in a military coup carried out by the Malian army as anger spread over the government’s response to the rebellion. Confusion and infighting created by the power vacuum in the capital of Bamako enabled the MNLA and Islamist groups to seize territory quickly. By April 2012, the groups controlled nearly all of the territory in the north and declared independence.
The alliance between the MNLA and the Islamist groups was short-lived; in June 2012 the MNLA broke with Ansar Dine and AQIM over the Islamists push to impose Sharia law in the north. Islamists gained control over Timbuktu and Gao, destroying shrines and imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule. As Islamist groups began pushing toward the center of the country, the French military intervened in January 2013 at the request of the Malian government, deploying ground troops and launching an air campaign to push back the militants. Through Operation Barkhane, France continues to lead the fight in Mali and three thousand troops have been deployed since July 2014 to protect civilians and aid the efforts of local militaries. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was also created to combat extremism in the region in April 2013. More than thirteen thousand UN peacekeepers remain deployed in Mali and MINUSMA has been called the UN’s most dangerous mission due to the high number of attacks on peacekeepers.
Despite increased international involvement, the campaign against militants has instead resulted in the spread of militancy to countries across the Sahel. In February 2017, France and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5) countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—announced the creation of the G5 Sahel Force, a five thousand-troop-strong counterterrorism force aimed at fighting militant groups with an expanded mandate to move across borders in the Sahel region; the multinational force began operations in October 2017. The U.S. military has also increased its presence in the Sahel, deploying approximately 1,500 troops to the region and building a drone base in Niger to serve as a platform for strikes against groups across West and North Africa.
The continued strengthening of militant groups in Mali and their spread to neighboring countries could allow al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to establish a new safe haven and destabilize the region through militancy and terrorism. In addition, northern Mali remains a central transit point for young migrants from all over western Africa looking to travel to Algeria or Libya with the ultimate goal of reaching Europe. The weak economy and lack of job prospects in northern Mali has led many to turn to the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and drugs as a primary source of income. This crisis is both a humanitarian and security concern as militant groups in the Sahel region often tax trafficking and smuggling routes to fund their campaigns.
Violence in the Central African Republic
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Number of people in need of humanitarian assistance
Estimated number of internally displaced persons
Total UN personnel
Violence in eastern and western Central African Republic (CAR) has increased and spread to new provinces in 2018, as the government in Bangui remains unable to extend control outside the capital. A peace agreement signed in June 2017 between the government and thirteen of the fourteen main armed factions had little effect, and ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militias along with hundreds of other localized groups operate openly and control as much as two-thirds of CAR’s territory.
In April 2018, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and government security forces launched an operation to disarm a militia group in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood, a predominantly Muslim enclave in the majority Christian city. After rumors spread that the peacekeepers intended to disarm all Muslims, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by armed Christian groups, heavy clashes broke out, killing more than twenty people, including a UN peacekeeper, and wounding nearly one hundred fifty. Days later, demonstrators laid the bodies of sixteen people killed in the violence in front of MINUSCA’s headquarters in Bangui, accusing peacekeepers of firing on civilians.
Over the following weeks, violence spread outside of PK5 as reprisal attacks were carried out by both ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militias. In May 2018, gunmen attacked a church in Bangui, killing sixteen people including a priest; several mosques were attacked in retaliation. Ex-Seleka leaders met in northern CAR and threatened to attack the capital, prompting MINUSCA to enhance security around the city.
Since gaining independence in 1960, CAR has experienced decades of violence and instability. An insurgency led by the Seleka (or “alliance” in Sango)—a coalition of armed, primarily Muslim groups—has resulted in the severe deterioration of the country’s security infrastructure and heightened ethnic tensions. Seleka fighters launched an offensive against the CAR government in December 2012, and both seized the capital city of Bangui and staged a coup in March 2013. In response to brutality by Seleka forces, “anti-balaka” (meaning “invincible” in Sango) coalitions of Christian fighters formed to carry out reprisal violence against Seleka fighters, adding an element of religious animosity to the violence that had previously been absent.
In September 2013, anti-balaka forces began committing widespread revenge attacks against mostly Muslims civilians, displacing tens of thousands of people to Seleka-controlled areas in the north. Seleka forces were disbanded by the government shortly after revenge attacks began, but many ex-Seleka members started committing counterattacks, plunging CAR into a chaotic state of violence and an ensuing humanitarian crisis. Since the outbreak of renewed conflict in 2013, thousands of people have been killed and nearly 575,000 refugees have been displaced, the majority of whom fled to neighboring Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Despite optimism after the election of President Faustin Archange Touadera in the spring of 2016, the crisis only intensified. A de facto territorial partition led to a pause in Muslim-Christian fighting, but fighting between factions of the ex-Seleka has grown. Though the government maintains control of Bangui, most armed groups have boycotted President Touadera’s attempts to calm the region through disarmament, leaving the government powerless outside the capital. Lawlessness in the rest of the country has allowed armed groups to thrive and fighting has increased in the central, western, and eastern provinces. The conflict has also wreaked havoc on the economy, crippling the private sector and leaving nearly 75 percent of the country’s population in poverty.
Reports by human rights groups and UN agencies suggest that crimes committed by both ex-Seleka forces and anti-balaka groups amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Due to the scale of the crisis, the UN Security Council established a peacekeeping force in April 2014 that incorporated African Union and French forces that had been deployed to CAR previously. MINUSCA was established, with a mandate to protect civilians and disarm militia groups, and currently has nearly fifteen thousand peacekeepers operating inside CAR. MINUSCA faces significant challenges in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians and dismantle armed groups, primarily due to lack of infrastructure and reluctance to use military force. Numerous attacks have also been carried out against UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers; fifteen peacekeepers were killed in CAR in 2017 and six peacekeepers have been killed in attacks by various armed groups in 2018.
The United States has long supported economic growth, the rule of law, and political stability in CAR, and it remains concerned about the high levels of violence and worsening humanitarian crisis. Further deterioration of the security environment will increase sectarian violence and spillover will continue to destabilize the region, posing challenges to ending the conflicts in neighboring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of internally displaced persons
Total UN personnel
Human Development Index rank
Opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) presidential elections held in late December 2018 and was inaugurated in January 2019. The transfer of power from former President Joseph Kabila, who ruled for eighteen years and had delayed elections multiple times, marked the first peaceful transfer of power in the DRC’s history. However, election results have since been questioned. Technical issues and irregularities, including a delay in voting for more than a million people, marred the election itself and polling data indicates that a different opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, may have actually won.
Tshisekedi inherited a number of crises across the DRC, including an Ebola outbreak in the east and ongoing violence across the country, particularly in the Ituri, Kasai, and Kivu regions. More than one hundred armed groups, such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, are believed to operate in the eastern region of the DRC. Despite the presence of more than sixteen thousand UN peacekeepers, these groups continue to terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas. Millions of civilians have been forced to flee the fighting: the United Nations estimates there are currently 4.5 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, and more than 800,000 DRC refugees in other nations.
The origins of the current violence in the DRC are in the massive refugee crisis and spillover from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. After Hutu génocidaires fled to eastern DRC and formed armed groups, opposing Tutsi and other opportunistic rebel groups arose. The Congolese government was unable to control and defeat the various armed groups, some of which directly threatened populations in neighboring countries, and war eventually broke out.
From 1998 to 2003, government forces supported by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe fought rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda in what is known as the Second Congo War. While estimates vary greatly, the death toll may have reached over three million people. Despite a peace deal in 2002 and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, ongoing violence perpetrated by armed groups against civilians in the eastern region has continued, largely due to poor governance, weak institutions, and rampant corruption.
One of the most prominent rebel groups to emerge in the aftermath of the war was known as the March 23 Movement (M23), made up primarily of ethnic Tutsis who were allegedly supported by the Rwandan government. M23 rebelled against the Congolese government for supposedly reneging on a peace deal signed in 2009. The UN Security Council authorized an offensive brigade under the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to support the DRC state army in its fight against M23. The Congolese army and UN peacekeepers defeated the group in 2013, but other armed groups have since emerged.
The country’s massive resource wealth—estimated to include $24 trillion of untapped mineral resources—also fuels violence. The mineral trade provides financial means for groups to operate and buy arms. The United States passed legislation in 2010 to reduce the purchase of “conflict minerals” and prevent the funding of armed militias, but complex supply chains in the DRC mineral sale business have made it difficult for companies that purchase resources from secondhand buyers to obtain certification. As a result, multinational companies have stopped buying minerals from the DRC altogether, putting many miners out of work and even driving some to join armed groups to gain a source of livelihood.
Weak governance and the prevalence of many armed groups have subjected Congolese civilians to widespread rape and sexual violence, massive human rights violations, and extreme poverty. The African Union, United Nations, and neighboring countries have struggled to address threats posed by rebel groups and promote sustainable development. Continued violence in the DRC may eventually spill over into Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda—countries with longstanding ties with the United States.
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated total Burmese Rohingya population
Estimated number of people who fled Myanmar into Bangladesh since August 2017
Estimated number of internally displaced Rohingya
Tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have escalated dramatically since late August 2017. A series of attacks by a group of Rohingya militants calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on military and police outposts killed more than seventy people, including twelve Burmese security forces personnel. In response, the military launched a brutal crackdown on Rohingya villages, causing over seven hundred thousand people to flee across the border to Bangladesh since August 2017. Widespread reports indicate indiscriminate killings and burning of Rohingya villages, escalating to the point that the UN Human Rights Commissioner called the situation in Rakhine State “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The violence has led to a growing humanitarian crisis in neighboring Bangladesh, where nearly one million Rohingya now reside in refugee camps along the border.
This outburst of violence by the military comes after a similar attack on a security post along the Bangladeshi border in October 2016 killed nine police officers. The army responded to that attack with a month-long crackdown on unarmed Muslim civilians, causing more than one thousand civilian deaths and driving tens of thousands more to flee their homes in search of safety.
After winning Myanmar’s first competitive national election in more than twenty-five years and taking office in March 2016, the National League for Democracy party (unofficially headed by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi) has continually failed to address the status of the Rohingya people, who were not allowed to vote in the election. A national peace conference was held in August 2016, aimed at ending decades of fighting between the military and a number of armed ethnic groups, but Rohingya representatives were not invited to attend. That same month, Aung San Suu Kyi announced the creation of a nine-person commission, headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to review and offer recommendations to address the tensions in Rakhine. The commission delivered its final report in late August 2017, just days before the latest outbreak of violence. Aung San Suu Kyi has continued to face criticism over a failure to address or acknowledge the Rohingya issue.
The Rohingya, a highly persecuted Muslim group numbering over one million, face discrimination both from their neighbors and their nation, and are not considered citizens by Myanmar’s government. Buddhist nationalist groups, including the MaBaTha and the anti-Muslim 969 movement, regularly call for boycotts of Muslim shops, the expulsion of Muslims from Myanmar, and attacks on Muslim communities. After two waves of violence, reprisals, and riots in June and October of 2012 intensified the century-old conflict in the predominantly Buddhist country, more than one hundred thousand Muslim Rohingyas were internally displaced and hundreds killed.
There is little indication that addressing the Rohingya issue will become a priority any time soon for Myanmar’s government, which has focused instead on establishing a new relationship with the military and addressing multiple ongoing insurgencies. The military signed a cease-fire with several armed ethnic groups in October 2015, but some major groups—including two of the largest militias, the United Wa State Army and Kachin Independence Army—continue to fight the government. While the cease-fire agreement was a potential step towards peace in Myanmar, it failed to finalize a framework for a new balance of power between the central government and local authorities in the restive borderlands or require ethnic groups to disarm.
As the U.S.-Myanmar relationship warms, disagreements over human rights issues will remain a divisive factor. However, Myanmar’s stability is increasingly important to U.S. interests given Myanmar’s strategic importance in Southeast Asia, vast natural resources, and emerging democratic government.
Civil War in South Sudan
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Estimated number of people killed since December 2013
Estimated number of refugees and asylum-seekers
Total UN personnel
Since civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, over 50,000 people have been killed—possibly as many as 383,000, according to a recent estimate—and nearly four million people have been internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries. 2018 brought an increase in regional and international pressure on President Salva Kiir and opposition leader and former Vice President Riek Machar to reach an agreement to end the conflict, including targeted sanctions from the United States and a UN arms embargo.
After almost five years of civil war in South Sudan, Kiir and Machar participated in negotiations mediated by Uganda and Sudan in June 2018. Later that month, Kiir and Machar signed the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement that included a cease-fire and a pledge to negotiate a power-sharing agreement to end the war. Despite sporadic violations over the ensuing weeks, Kiir and Machar signed a final cease-fire and power-sharing agreement in August 2018. This agreement was followed by a peace agreement to end the civil war signed by the government and Machar’s opposition party, along with several other rebel factions. The agreement, called the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, included a new power-sharing structure and reinstated Machar as vice president.
In late October 2018, Machar returned to South Sudan for a nationwide peace celebration to mark the end of the civil war. However, reports of continued attacks and violations, coupled with the collapse of multiple previous peace deals, highlight concerns that the fragile peace may not hold.
In December 2013, following a political struggle between Kiir and Machar that led to Machar’s removal as vice president, violence erupted between presidential guard soldiers from the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan. Soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group aligned with Kiir and those from the Nuer ethnic group supported Machar. In the midst of chaos, Kiir announced that Machar had attempted a coup and violence spread quickly to Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states. Since the outbreak of conflict, armed groups have targeted civilians along ethnic lines, committed rape and sexual violence, destroyed property and looted villages, and recruited children into their ranks.
Under the threat of international sanctions and following several rounds of negotiations supported by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kiir signed a peace agreement with Machar in August 2015. As the first step toward ending the civil war, Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 and was once again sworn in as vice president, after spending more than two years outside of the country. Soon after his return, violence broke out between government forces and opposition factions, once more displacing tens of thousands of people. Machar fled the country and was eventually detained in South Africa. In 2017 and 2018, a series of cease-fires were negotiated and subsequently violated between the two sides and other factions.
In late December 2013, the UN Security Council authorized a rapid deployment of about 6,000 security forces, in addition to 7,600 peacekeepers already in the country, to aid in nation-building efforts. In May 2014, the Security Council voted in a rare move to shift the mission’s mandate from nation-building to civilian protection, authorizing UN troops to use force. Since reprioritizing protection, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan has faced extreme challenges due to the deterioration of the security situation and its complex relationship with the government of the Republic of South Sudan. The UN authorized the deployment of an additional four thousand peacekeepers as part of a regional protection force in 2016, although their arrival was delayed until August 2017.
Violence has prevented farmers from planting or harvesting crops, causing food shortages nationwide. In July 2014, the UN Security Council declared South Sudan’s food crisis the “worst in the world.” Famine was declared in South Sudan during the first few months of 2017, with nearly five million people at risk from food insecurity. The country again faced critical food shortages in early 2018, with aid agencies warning that more than seven million people could be at risk of severe food insecurity during summer months.
The United States was a lead facilitator of South Sudanese independence, which was decided in a 2011 referendum, providing diplomatic support and humanitarian aid. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 2013, the United States supported and advocated for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which became the new country’s government. Though largely taking a back seat in mediation efforts run by IGAD and neighboring countries, the United States and its international partners have an interest in ensuring a lasting settlement to the conflict in South Sudan, addressing the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, and preventing destabilizing regional spillover.
South Sudan Opposition Rebel Group Releases Prisoners
The armed forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition rebel group released seventy-eight women and fifty children it abducted in 2018 (United Nations).
February 5, 2020
U.S. Diplomat Urges Formation of South Sudan Unity Government
Tibor Nagy, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, called on South Sudan’s rival leaders to meet the upcoming February 22 deadline to establish a unity government (Voice of America).
January 30, 2020
South Sudan President Pardons Dozens
President Salva Kiir pardoned thirty-one prisoners in a goodwill measure to continue the country’s peace process, according to state media (Reuters).
January 3, 2020
South Sudan Sets New Deadline for Unity Government
After talks in Juba, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said that he and rebel leader Riek Machar have agreed to uphold a cease-fire and form a transitional unity government by February, even if the two parties have not resolved their disputes by that time (Voice of America).
December 18, 2019
South Sudan Opens Tribal for Security Forces
The country opened a special court to try members of its National Security Service. Hundreds of the service’s officers have been accused of committing human rights abuses (Voice of America).
December 6, 2019
UN Sends Peacekeepers to South Sudan
The UN mission in the country deployed seventy-five peacekeeping troops to central South Sudan following reports that nearly eighty people have been killed and more than a hundred others injured in recent communal violence (United Nations).
December 4, 2019
UN Reports Details Violations of South Sudan Peace Deal
The national security service recruited some ten thousand troops from President Salva Kiir’s ethnic stronghold in a violation of the country’s peace deal, a new UN report found. The deal calls for a joint military force of government and opposition fighters (Associated Press).
November 27, 2019
South Sudanese Leaders Extend Peace Deadline
President Salva Kiir and his main rival, rebel leader Riek Machar, agreed to extend a November 12 deadline to form a transitional government by one hundred days. It is the second extension since a peace deal was signed in September 2018 (Agence France-Presse).
November 8, 2019
South Sudanese Opposition Group Seeks Negotiation Delay
Former rebel leader Riek Machar called for a six-month delay on a deadline to form a unity government, a cornerstone of a peace deal that was signed in September 2018 but has been stalled (Reuters).
October 30, 2019
South Sudanese Government and Rebel Groups Hold Peace Talks
Leaders from Sudan and Ethiopia are in Juba today for a round of peace talks between the South Sudanese government and rebel groups. The two sides had set a mid-November deadline to reach a power-sharing deal. (Associated Press).
October 14, 2019
Watchdog Details Corporate Beneficiaries of South Sudan War
A new report by a Washington, DC–based watchdog group found that politicians and military officials it says helped to destabilize South Sudan were backed by multinational corporations and other actors from China to the United Kingdom (Sentry).
September 20, 2019
South Sudan Parties Agree to Form Government
President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to form a transitional government by November 12, according to the country’s information minister (Reuters).
September 12, 2019
South Sudanese Exiled Leader Returns for Talks
Riek Machar, a rebel commander who left South Sudan last year after a pact to end the country’s civil war, is in Juba to conclude negotiations around the peace deal (Al Jazeera).
September 10, 2019
South Sudan Activists Demand Unity Government
South Sudan’s Civil Society Forum announced a ninety-day countdown to the November deadline to form a unity government pursuant to a 2018 peace agreement (Agence France-Presse).
August 13, 2019
U.S., Norway, and UK Urge Renewed South Sudan Peace Efforts
A statement released yesterday by the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom urged redoubled efforts to implement the 2018 peace agreement, including negotiating security reforms. South Sudan’s pre-transitional period is set to end in November (Anadolu Agency).
July 30, 2019
Gunmen Kill UN Peacekeeper and Six Civilians in South Sudan
An attack along the border between Sudan and South Sudan today killed a UN peacekeeper and six civilians in the disputed Abyei region (Reuters).
July 17, 2019
UN Urges South Sudan Peace
Today, on the eighth anniversary of South Sudanese independence, the United Nations urged a peaceful resolution to the civil war in South Sudan, which has caused Africa’s largest displacement crisis (United Nations).
July 9, 2019
In South Sudan, Violence Kills One Hundred Civilians
The United Nations reported that a fresh wave of violence in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria region has killed over one hundred civilians and prompted 76,000 to flee their homes (Bloomberg).
July 8, 2019
UN Extends Arms Embargo on South Sudan
The UN Security Council voted to extend sanctions, including an arms embargo, against South Sudan for another year, citing the need for rival political groups to bolster a peace agreement reached last year (Voice of America).
May 31, 2019
South Sudanese President Calls for Additional Delay in Formation of Unity Government
President Salva Kiir said the formation of a unity government in South Sudan should be delayed by at least a year because the upcoming rainy season would pose challenges for the movement and integration of forces within the six-month delay that was recently proposed (Reuters).
May 9, 2019
South Sudan Rivals Delay Formation of a Unity Government
Following a round of peace talks in Addis Ababa, South Sudan’s warring parties agreed to delay the formation of a power-sharing government by six months (Al Jazeera).
May 6, 2019
South Sudanese President and Rebel Leader to Hold Talks
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir will meet with his main rival, rebel leader Riek Machar, in Addis Ababa today ahead of a May 12 deadline to install a power-sharing government, part of a September 2018 peace agreement (Agence France-Presse).
May 2, 2019
U.S. Ambassador Criticizes South Sudan Lobbying Deal
U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek, along with analysts and human rights activists, criticized a new $3.7 million deal between South Sudan’s government and U.S.-based lobbyists. The lobbying firm was hired to help block the creation of a special war crimes court (Voice of America).
May 1, 2019
South Sudan Pays Lobbyists to Improve Ties With United States
South Sudan reportedly signed a two-year contract to pay a U.S.-based lobby firm $3.7 million to improve its relationship with the Trump administration and to block the establishment of a long-delayed court to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes committed during the country’s five-year civil war (Associated Press).
April 29, 2019
Thousands in South Sudan Without Food, Clean Water
Officials in South Sudan’s Yei River State reported that as many as six thousand people who fled their homes as a result of recent fighting between government forces and the National Salvation Front do not have access to food and clean water (Voice of America).
February 14, 2019
Report: South Sudan Taking in EU-Made Arms
A UK-based conflict arms researcher accused Uganda of skirting an EU arms embargo on South Sudan by purchasing weapons from Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia and then transferring them to South Sudanese government forces and allied armed groups (Voice of America). South Sudan’s information minister rejected the findings, saying “we don’t even have money to buy arms” (Associated Press).
November 30, 2018
UN Report Finds Violation of South Sudan Arms Embargo
A UN panel found violations of the arms embargo imposed on South Sudan, stating in an interim report that Sudan and Uganda deployed troops to South Sudan. The panel added that it is investigating “other allegations of transport of weapons into South Sudan, in violation of the arms embargo” (Agence France-Presse).
November 14, 2018
South Sudanese Rebel Leader Returns to Juba
Rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital of Juba to take part in a peace ceremony after signing a peace deal with President Salva Kiir in Ethiopia last month. The agreement formally ended the country’s five-year civil war and will reinstate Machar as vice president (Al Jazeera).
October 31, 2018
Food Aid Blocked by Violence in South Sudan
According to the World Food Programme, fighting in South Sudan is preventing food deliveries, indicating that the peace deal signed in September is not holding (Reuters).
October 29, 2018
Study: 382,000 Killed in South Sudan War
At least 382,000 people have died in South Sudan since 2013 due to conflict, according to a new study funded by the U.S. State Department. The total includes deaths due to circumstances related to the conflict, such as disease outbreaks and malnutrition. A South Sudanese envoy to the United States disputed the findings, estimating a death toll of twenty thousand (Washington Post).
September 26, 2018
South Sudan Rivals Sign Peace Deal
President Salva Kiir and his main rival, rebel leader Riek Machar, signed an agreement in Addis Ababa yesterday that will formally end the civil war and reinstate Machar as vice president (Al Jazeera).
September 13, 2018
South Sudan Declared Most Dangerous Country for Aid Workers
For the third consecutive year, South Sudan has been labeled the most violent country in the world to deliver humanitarian aid (Norwegian Refugee Council).
August 14, 2018
South Sudan’s President Pardons Rebel Leader
President Salva Kiir has pardoned former Vice President Riek Machar following a power-sharing agreement signed by the rival parties on August 5. Kiir also granted an amnesty to “other estranged groups who waged war” against the government (Sudan Tribune).
August 9, 2018
South Sudanese Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Deal
Under the deal signed by both sides yesterday, President Salva Kiir will remain in office, rebel leader Riek Machar will return to the vice presidency, and top offices will be distributed among the rival parties, as well as six other groups (Associated Press).
August 6, 2018
South Sudan Rival Leaders Reach Power-Sharing Deal
The South Sudanese government and the country’s main rebel group struck a deal to share political power that observers hope will bring an end to a five-year civil war. Other armed resistance groups did not sign the agreement (Associated Press).
July 26, 2018
UN Supports Arms Embargo on South Sudan
The UN Security Council backed a U.S.-drafted arms embargo on South Sudan that would last through 2019 and includes asset freezes and travel restrictions for two top military officials (Voice of America).
July 16, 2018
Parliament Extends South Sudan President’s Term
South Sudan’s parliament voted to extend President Salva Kiir’s term until 2021, a move opposition groups have claimed would be illegal (Reuters).
July 12, 2018
UN Report Documents South Sudan Government Atrocities
South Sudanese government troops and allied forces killed at least 232 civilians and carried out mass rapes of women and girls in attacks on opposition-held villages in the country’s north in April and May, according to a UN investigation (Washington Post).
July 11, 2018
South Sudan Rebels Reject Peace Proposal
Rebels in South Sudan rejected a peace plan that would have reinstated insurgent leader Riek Machar as vice president, claiming it would leave President Salva Kiir with too much power (Reuters).
July 10, 2018
South Sudan’s Government, Opposition Forces Accuse Each Other of Attacks
The government military SPLA accused rebels of attacking Maban in Upper Nile state, killing eighteen civilians and wounding forty-four others. The opposition SPLA-IO said their forces were “heavily bombarded” by the military in the Maban area and denied attacking civilians (Reuters).
July 2, 2018
South Sudan Rivals Sign Peace Deal
President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed an agreement in Khartoum committing to a permanent cease-fire and to resolving outstanding governance issues (Sudan Tribune). The agreement calls for the release of political prisoners and the formation of a unity government within four months (Al Jazeera).
June 28, 2018
No Agreements in South Sudan Peace Talks
Peace talks on ending South Sudan’s five-year-long civil war between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar failed today. A government spokesman said “we have had enough” of Machar, rejecting the possibility of the former vice president returning to the government (Associated Press).
June 22, 2018
South Sudan Rivals Meet in Ethiopia
Rebel leader Riek Machar arrived in Ethiopia to discuss ending South Sudan’s five-year civil war with President Salva Kiir, the first such meeting since a peace deal broke down in 2016 (Reuters).
June 20, 2018
South Sudan Talks to Take Place in Addis Ababa
South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar accepted an invitation from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to attend talks with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa next week. The talks will mark the first time Machar and Kiir will meet since a peace deal fell apart in August 2016 (Reuters).
June 13, 2018
South Sudan Asks Ethiopia to Reject Proposed Sanctions
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, in Addis Ababa yesterday, urged Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to oppose U.S.-drafted sanctions on his country, which the UN Security Council is expected to vote on today (Voice of America).
May 31, 2018
Aid Workers Abducted in South Sudan, UN Says
Ten humanitarian aid workers are believed to have been abducted by an armed group. They went missing earlier this week during a trip to Central Equatoria region, in the country’s south (New York Times).
April 27, 2018
U.S. Sanctions Oil Companies in South Sudan
The United States yesterday announced new sanctions on fifteen South Sudanese oil companies in a move designed to increase pressure on President Salva Kiir, who has been accused of using oil companies to funnel money to militias and prolonging the civil war, to end the conflict. In a statement released today, the South Sudanese government said the sanctions, which require companies and government bodies to apply for special licenses to do business in the United States, will undermine efforts to restore peace (Reuters).
March 21, 2018
Report Claims South Sudan Using Oil Profits to Fund Security Services, Prolong War
A new investigation by a UK-based advocacy group alleges that the state oil and gas company has come under the direct control of President Salva Kiir and his associates, who use it to channel funds to abusive security forces and militias (Global Witness).
March 7, 2018
Hundreds of Child Soldiers Released in South Sudan
Armed groups have released 87 girls and 224 boys in the second-largest liberation of child soldiers in South Sudan since civil war began four years ago. A total of seven hundred child soldiers are expected to be released in a process overseen by the United Nations (Voice of America).
February 8, 2018
U.S. Cuts Support to South Sudan’s President
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley said yesterday that the United States is stopping its support for South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, calling him an “unfit partner,” and urged the UN Security Council to support an arms embargo (Associated Press).
January 25, 2018
South Sudan Cease-Fire Announced
Representatives from South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity and the armed opposition signed a cease-fire in Addis Ababa, seeking to revive a 2015 peace deal that fell apart in 2016 (Sudan Tribune).
December 22, 2017
U.S. Envoy Pressures South Sudan Over Aid
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told South Sudanese President Salva Kiir that the United States is “questioning” its aid to the country and that Kiir can’t “deny the stories” of military abuses (Voice of America). Haley’s visit to a UN camp for internally displaced persons there was disrupted by anti-government protests (Sudan Tribune).
October 26, 2017
Attack on Government Forces Results in Twenty-Five Deaths
Forces loyal to former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar attacked government forces and civilians (Al Jazeera).
September 21, 2017
South Sudan Calls on U.S. to Reconsider Sanctions
South Sudan’s foreign ministry called on Washington to reconsider new sanctions, calling them “very unfortunate.” The U.S. Treasury said the sanctions on two senior officials, as well as a former defense chief and three companies, were imposed because of human rights abuses and obstruction of the country’s peace process (Associated Press).
September 7, 2017
UN Moves to Protect South Sudan Civilians
UN peacekeepers are working harder to protect South Sudanese civilians, after years of criticism for failing to do so (Reuters).
August 28, 2017
One Million South Sudanese Refugees Flee to Uganda
The UN announced that one million refugees from South Sudan have crossed the border into Uganda. It also called for more support for the refugees (BBC).
August 17, 2017
Rebel Forces Recapture Former Headquarters in Northeastern South Sudan
Rebels retook the city of Pagak from South Sudan government forces. Pagak, which has served as the headquarters of the South Sudanese opposition for almost four years, was captured by government forces in early August (Associated Press).
August 15, 2017
Six Killed in Attack on Bus Convoy in South Sudan
Four civilians and two South Sudanese servicemembers were killed in an attack on a bus convoy traveling between Juba, the capital, and Nimule, a city on the southern border with Uganda (Voice of America).
August 3, 2017
UN to Deploy Protection Forces to South Sudan
The UN will soon deploy four thousand regional protection forces to South Sudan, according to the head of the UN mission there (Sudan Tribune).
July 31, 2017
South Sudan Will Not Include Rebel Leader in Peace Process
Riek Machar, a rebel leader in South Sudan, was not invited to participate in a regional peace process, although his representatives will be allowed to attend (Voice of America).
July 27, 2017
South Sudan Declares State of Emergency in Four States
The president of South Sudan declared a state of emergency in four states that have been the site of clashes between militias since December 2013 (Voice of America).
July 19, 2017
Eight Foreign and Local Workers Seized by Gunmen in South Sudan
Gunmen seized eight foreign and local workers working for a private company in Juba, the capital, according to the UN. The workers were released two days later after negotiations (ABC News).
July 5, 2017
South Sudan Deports Three Americans
A South Sudanese police spokesman said that three Americans, reportedly an active-duty servicemember and two military veterans, were deported from South Sudan to Kenya for entering the country without valid visas (Sudan Tribune).
June 28, 2017
Famine Designation Lifted in South Sudan
Famine has eased in South Sudan’s Unity state, though six million people, about half of the country’s population, are still severely food-insecure, according to Oxfam (Voice of America).
June 23, 2017
South Sudan Government Bans Foreign Journalists
Media authorities banned twenty foreign journalists from entering the country, accusing them of publishing “unsubstantiated and unrealistic stories” that could incite violence. Neither the names of the journalists nor their outlets were released (Africa News).
June 9, 2017
Pope Cancels Trip to South Sudan
The Vatican said it canceled a tentative plan for Pope Francis to visit South Sudan this year; a spokesman did not offer a reason for the cancellation (Reuters).
May 31, 2017
South Sudan President Declares Cease-Fire
President Salva Kiir declared a unilateral cease-fire and the start of a national dialogue process; opposition groups have denounced the dialogue proposal (Voice of America).
May 25, 2017
South Sudan Increases Fees for NGOs
The government has increased the registration fee for foreign non-governmental organizations working in South Sudan from $600 to $3,500 (Reuters).
May 4, 2017
Advance UN Peacekeeper Team Arrives in South Sudan
Advance members of a regional protection force authorized by the UN in 2016 arrived in the capital of Juba, with the rest of the four thousand troops expected to arrive by July. The deployment reinforces the twelve thousand peacekeepers already in the country (Associated Press).
May 2, 2017
Forty-Two South Sudanese Affiliated with Former Vice President Are Evacuated
The U.S. embassy in Juba assisted forty-two South Sudanese, some of whom are dual U.S. citizens, evacuate the country by boarding a chartered flight to Cyprus.The individuals feared for their safety due to affiliations with ousted former Vice President Riek Machar (Voice of America).
April 4, 2017
Aid Workers Killed in South Sudan Ambush
Six aid workers from a South Sudanese non-governmental organization were killed in an ambush as they traveled from Juba through a government-controlled area (Sudan Tribune).
March 27, 2017
South Sudan Protests UN Report Claiming it Spends Half of Budget on Weapons
South Sudan’s information minister protested a UN report stating that the Juba government continues to spend its oil revenues on weapons even after a famine was declared in the country (Sudan Tribune).
March 20, 2017
Gunmen Ambush South Sudan Aid Convoy
An aid convoy returning from a cholera outbreak mission in Yirol was ambushed by two gunmen, where two workers died from gunshot wounds (Reuters).
March 16, 2017
Japan to Withdraw Peacekeepers from South Sudan
Japan will withdraw three hundred fifty servicemen from a UN peacekeeping contingent in South Sudan. The deployment had been a controversial move in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to expand Japan’s military role abroad (Japan Times).
March 10, 2017
South Sudan Raises Permit Price for Aid Agencies
Aid agencies asked the Juba government for clarification after it published a memo saying the price of work permits for humanitarian aid agencies would rise from $100 to $10,000. The memo came after President Salva Kiir promised humanitarian organizations “unimpeded access” after the country declared a state of famine (Guardian).
March 9, 2017
Former Military Official Announces New Rebel Group
Former South Sudanese senior military official General Thomas Cirillo Swaka announced the creation of a new rebel group, National Salvation Front, to fight President Salva Kiir (VOA).
March 7, 2017
United Nations Highlights Uptick in South Sudanese Refugees
Famine and violence have caused 1.5 million refugees to flee South Sudan and enter Uganda and other neighboring countries, marking the second largest refugee flow after Syria (Reuters).
March 2, 2017
South Sudan Declares World’s First Famine Since 2012
The South Sudanese government and the United Nations declared a famine affecting a hundred thousand people (Sudan Tribune).
February 21, 2017
South Sudanese Troops Accused of Mass Rape
Forty-seven men were detained following reports of mass rape of women and girls by South Sudanese soldiers in villages near the capital of Juba last week (Sudan Tribune). President Salva Kiir recently issued a warning that soldiers who rape will be shot.
February 17, 2017
South Sudan’s Lieutenant General Resigns
Lieutenant-General Thomas Cirillo Swaka alleged that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir engaged in violent ethnic cleansing of minority non-Dinka tribes “in pursuit of land occupation,” thus prompting his resignation from the army (Newsweek).
February 14, 2017
South Sudan Government Rejects Notion of International Trusteeship
A spokesperson for South Sudan’s president dismissed calls for the country to be placed under an international trusteeship, stating that there will always be “minority voices that would hope for something” different from that of the majority (Sudan Tribune).
February 6, 2017
South Sudan Rejects Additional Peacekeepers
A foreign ministry spokesperson announced that South Sudan will no longer accept an additional four thousand peacekeeping troops authorized by the United Nations in August to support the 13,500 troops already there (Al Jazeera). The spokesperson said the government is able to provide security to the country without the additional deployment.
January 12, 2017
UN Warns of Genocide in South Sudan
The head of a UN human rights investigation team said that South Sudan (Al Jazeera) is “on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war” and called for the deployment of a protection force to prevent a “Rwanda-like” genocide.
December 15, 2016
UN: Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing in South Sudan
A United Nations human rights commission said that “a steady process of ethnic cleansing” is underway in South Sudan (Al Jazeera).
December 1, 2016
Japanese Peacekeepers Arrive in South Sudan
Three hundred and fifty Japanese peacekeepers arrived in South Sudan with a new mandate that authorizes the use of force (Al Jazeera).
November 22, 2016
United States Seeks Arms Embargo Against South Sudan
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power proposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudanese leaders (Sudan Tribune). Power declared in a Security Council address that “all the ingredients exist” there for a genocide (U.S. Mission to the UN).
November 18, 2016
Kenya Begins Withdrawing Peacekeeping Troops
Kenya has begun withdrawing its troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon replaced the Kenyan commander of the mission (VOA).
November 10, 2016
Kenya Pulls Troops from Peacekeeping Mission
Kenya announced it is withdrawing troops from the UN mission in South Sudan, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sought to replace the Kenyan commander of the peacekeeping force because of his failure to protect civilians (Al Jazeera).
November 3, 2016
UN Removes South Sudan Peacekeeping Commander
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed a Kenyan general from his post as South Sudan Peacekeeping Commander after an investigation found that international troops under his command failed to protect civilians and aid workers during a July attack in Juba by government soldiers (BBC).
November 2, 2016
Armed Opposition Groups Release Child Soldiers
Armed opposition groups released 145 child soldiers in a ceremony, according to UNICEF. The children had been recruited by the rebel factions of former Vice President Riek Machar and Deputy Defense Minister David Yau Yau (Africa News).
October 27, 2016
Former Vice President Announces Return from South Africa
Former Vice President Reik Machar said he would return to South Sudan from South Africa after he fled the country during clashes in the capital city (Sudan Tribune). The South Sudanese military said it killed more than fifty rebels loyal to Machar in recent clashes (VOA).
October 18, 2016
Escalating Violence in South Sudan Kills Dozens
Fighting in South Sudan between rebels and government forces killed at least sixty people, the military said. Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang accused the rebels of “burning civilians, maiming women and child abductions and setting ablaze properties.” A spokesman for the rebels denied the accusations (Reuters).
October 17, 2016
Rebel Attacks Kill Twenty-One in South Sudan
Twenty-one people were killed and twenty were wounded in South Sudan after rebels attacked trucks carrying civilians, the government said (Reuters).
October 11, 2016
Report: Peacekeepers Abandoned South Sudan Posts
UN peacekeepers abandoned their posts during a July outbreak of fighting in South Sudan, according to a new report from a U.S.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (Guardian). The report also says that women were sexually assaulted within view of UN bases.
October 6, 2016
South Sudan Vice President Blames Rebel Leader for Unrest
Taban Deng Gai, the recently appointed acting vice president, says that Riek Machar and his associates are fueling the country’s return to war. Deng suggested that a “Riek Machar mafia” is holding displaced people at the camps, which he said ends up prolonging the civil war (Foreign Policy).
September 30, 2016
Rebel Leader Calls for Renewed War in South Sudan
Riek Machar, rebel leader and former vice president, called for renewed war against the government and declared the collapse of the August 2015 peace agreement. Machar fled the country and is in exile in Khartoum, Sudan (AFP).
September 26, 2016
Government Tightens Grip on Media in South Sudan
Authorities ordered the closure of the English-language newspaper Nation Mirror in South Sudan after it published details of an unfavorable report from a U.S. research organization on the personal wealth of the country’s leaders (Voice of America).
September 15, 2016
UN Monitors: South Sudan Acquires Weapons
South Sudanese government troops have purchased weapons, including two fighter jets and small arms ammunition, while opposition forces have received no significant arms deliveries, according to a confidential UN report seen by Reuters (Reuters).
September 9, 2016
Opposition Fighters Transferred to DRC for Medical Treatment
Hundreds of South Sudanese fighters loyal to Riek Machar, opposition leader and sacked vice president of South Sudan’s national unity government, were transferred to the UN peacekeeping mission in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to receive medical treatment (Reuters).
September 8, 2016
Kerry: Deploying Protection Force to South Sudan is Urgent
During a visit with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the deployment of a 4,000-troop protection force recently authorized by the United Nations to South Sudan is urgent (VOA).
August 23, 2016
South Sudan Opposition Leader Leaves the Country
Riek Machar, former South Sudan vice president and leader of the opposition to President Salva Kiir, fled the country, a spokesman said (Sudan Tribune).
August 18, 2016
Impact on U.S. Interests
Type of Conflict
Al-Shabab continues to conduct attacks both within Somalia and in neighboring Kenya, including a January 15, 2019, attack on an upscale Nairobi hotel complex in which at least twenty-one civilians were killed and hundreds held hostage. The militants also continue to target the Somali state and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces.
The United States has significantly increased the tempo of air strikes against al-Shabab since 2016 and broadened its troop presence and involvement in Somalia in 2017. In June 2018, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack that killed one U.S. special operations forces soldier, the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since a member of the Navy SEALs was killed in a raid in May 2017.
Since its inception in 2006, al-Shabab has capitalized on the feebleness of Somalia’s central government, despite the government’s strengthening in recent years, to control large swaths of ungoverned territory. The terrorist group reached its peak in 2011 when it controlled parts of the capital city of Mogadishu and the vital port of Kismayo. Kenyan troops, operating as part of AMISOM, entered Somalia later that year and successfully pushed al-Shabab out of most of its strongholds.
In response to the 2011 intervention, al-Shabab has committed more than 150 attacks in Kenya, a long-time U.S. ally. The most brutal were a January 2016 attack on a Kenyan army camp in El Adde killing 200 soldiers, an April 2015 attack on a Kenyan college campus that killed 148 people, and a September 2013 attack on a mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67.
The United States has pursued a two-pronged approach in Somalia by providing financial and logistical support to AMISOM and conducting counterterrorism operations, including drone strikes and special operations forces raids, against suspected al-Shabab militants. Since 2007, the United States has provided more than half a billion dollars to train and equip African Union forces battling al-Shabab. In September 2014, the United States launched an air strike that killed at least six people, al-Shabab’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, after which the group immediately named Ahmed Umar as his successor. In May 2016, a U.S. strike using both drones and manned aircraft reportedly killed 150 al-Shabab soldiers at a training camp north of Mogadishu.
The primary U.S. objective in Somalia is to minimize the ability of al-Shabab and other violent groups to destabilize Somalia or its neighbors and harm the United States or its allies. Al-Shabab’s continued attacks degrade the Somali government’s ability to both provide security and alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in the country, and its influence in Somalia undermines the United States’ efforts to prevent the use of Somalia as a refuge for international terrorists.