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inFOCUS Quarterly

Summer 2014

America's Global Withdrawal


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House Approves Plan to Aid Syrian Rebels

By a vote of 273 to 156, the House of Representatives approved President Obama's plan to train and arm Syrian rebels on Wednesday. With support from Congress, the White House hopes that assisting vetted opposition groups will help contain the spread of Islamic State (IS) fighters. The provision was attached to a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government through December. Until now, the CIA had been covertly assisting the rebels for months.

The resolution divided both parties, with more than 40% of Democrats opposing the measure for fear of leading the U.S. into another war in the Middle East. Most Republicans backed the bill, with one senior GOP leader suggesting that the White House should be given broader military authority to combat IS militants. Yet, other Republicans worried that supporting rebel groups would allow them to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad better, instead of IS terrorists.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 18, 2014 at 5:16 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Fatalities Rise as Migrants Cross the Mediterranean

Approximately 500 migrants to Europe are feared to have died after their ship sank in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. The incident highlights the increasing danger for many Middle Eastern and African migrants and refugees illegally crossing into the EU.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Geneva based organization, suspect human traffickers intentionality sank the ship. During an interview with IOM, four survivors from the vessel, including two Palestinians, one Egyptian, and a Syrian, described how the smugglers turned violent. Shortly after departing from Port of Damietta near Alexandria, Egypt, the traffickers rammed a vessel escorting hundreds of people after they refused to move to another, less seaworthy boat.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Islamists Free Fijian Peacekeepers in Golan

Jabat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group fighting in Syria, released 45 Fijian soldiers serving in the Golan on Thursday. The IDF confirmed that the UN peacekeepers safely arrived in Israel following approximately two weeks in captivity.

Al-Nusra originally took the Fijians prisoner following clashes between government forces and rebels on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. By the beginning of September, Islamist forces captured much of the border with Israel, including the Quneitra crossing. Syrian government forces bombed rebel-held facilities near UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) outposts, stationed in the area since the mid-1970s.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Kerry Visits Baghdad, Meets New Iraqi PM

The Iraqi parliament named Haider al-Abadi as the government's new prime minister earlier this week. Lawmakers also approved a number of cabinet posts during a late night session on Monday, but left other positions vacant after sectarian infighting.

Al-Abadi, a Shiite, reassigned some Kurdish and Sunni politicians to new posts leading the foreign and oil ministries. There are 37 cabinet level positions in total. Politicians were unable to reach consensus over who should lead the powerful Interior and Defense ministries. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal reported that "there was no significant increase in the number or importance of positions offered to the main minority groups." Al-Abadi remained confident that the spots could be filled within a week.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Abbas Questions Hamas's Unity Deal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chastised Hamas over the weekend, saying the terrorist organization refuses to let the PA operate in Gaza. Abbas also threatened to end the unity government, to which both sides agreed in April.

On Saturday, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that the Palestinian President criticized Hamas's "shadow government that consists of 27 deputy ministers" who run Gaza, saying they "rendered helpless" a unified Palestinian front. Before speaking at an Arab League meeting of Foreign Ministers, he also accused the militant group of committing more than 30 extra-judicial executions in August during the war with Israel.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 9, 2014 at 9:40 am  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Al-Qaeda Leader Announces New India Branch

In a new video, al-Qaeda announced the establishment of Qaedat al-Jihad or al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. The new organization comes as rival Islamist groups, including Islamic State (IS), have gained attention from graphically violent operations in Iraq and Syria. Analysts say al-Qaeda is trying to remain relevant as IS makes territorial advances and has released video of the executions of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

U.S. Drone Targets al-Shabaab Leader

The U.S. military launched an airstrike in Somalia against al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, according to a Pentagon press briefing held Tuesday. The operation marks the most visible intervention in the East African country in nearly a year as the American government builds up its UAV capabilities elsewhere on the continent.

A drone sits at a French army base in Niamey, Niger. (Photo: AFP)

U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby confirmed that an American drone, along with other manned aircraft, destroyed a suspected terrorist compound and a nearby vehicle on Monday. It remains unclear if Godane survived the attack. The al-Qaeda-linked group told the AP that six fighters had been killed in Barawe, about 150 miles south of Mogadishu. Kirby said that the Pentagon is still assessing the results of the operation, but Godane's death would pose a "significant blow"  to the organization.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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