Wars of the world: As military analyst says Syrian war ‘could draw much of the world into it’, we look at the other countries on the brink
Crisis in Syria … crisis in North Korea… Russia and America facing off… and China getting itself involved in the mix.
Yet those are just the most visible flashpoints in a world riven by conflict – look beyond them and there are plenty more trouble spots that could escalate globally.
In Syria, mercenaries, terrorists and soldiers from over 100 countries are involved. More than 400,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in what is the worst of more than 20 conflicts globally.
North Korea’s sabre-rattling continues with threats of more nuclear bomb tests this weekend, fuelling further tension of a worldwide clash.
America’s bombing of an IS lair in Afghanistan three days ago was seen as a warning shot to the likes of Korean despot Kim Jong-Un to back off. President Donald Trump has also sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier – codenamed Gold Eagle – towards the Korean peninsula.
Both Koreas are inter-connected to major military adversaries lining up against each other elsewhere – the North linked to China, Iran and, by association, Russia while the South is backed by the US and the West.
While posturing Russian President Vladimir Putin does little to ease tension, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned: “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”
For now, Syria is one focus of concern – particularly since the chemical weapons attack that killed 86 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
With over half the world’s countries represented there by fighters, it is a crucible of sectarian and political violence.
The ground and the air above Syria are swarming with hardware, from jihadists’s £100 AK-47 rifles to £125million RAF Typhoon fighter-bombers. Syrian warplanes, Russian SU-25 jets, and US B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers make the airspace a tinder box.
War in Syria has boosted the £100billion-a-year weapons trade. And in Britain – the world’s second largest arms exporter after America – around 120,000 people are employed in weapons dealing.
Military analyst Bruce Jones said: “Syria is the biggest and most complex proxy war the world has witnessed.
“Just one wrong, miscalculated move, a local commander making a mistake or coming too close to an enemy force, could push one side over the edge unintentionally and it could go badly wrong. The violence could escalate with a ferocity and speed never seen before.
“This conflict is already horrific but it could draw much of the world into it unless it is very carefully and diplomatically handled by the developed world.”
Globally, so many conflicts are bubbling under, forcing countries to size each other up and form alliances to feel safety in numbers.
Here we look at 22 powderkeg countries and regions already embroiled in war.
Wars of the world:
The savage civil war here is now in its seventh year, with over 40,000 fighters and thousands of foreign troops embroiled in conflict.
The war has caused almost half a million casualties and seen appalling atrocities as jihadists and regime fighters torture and murder at will.
President Bashar al-Assad– accused of horrific poison gas attacks on his own people– is backed by Russia and Iran.
He is opposed by the US, Britain and many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, which part-sponsors IS and al-Qaeda.
Terrorism is just a tactic, and fighting a tactic cannot define a strategy. Jihadi groups exploit wars and state collapse to consolidate power, and they thrive on chaos.
Mexico’s drug war is fuelled by a lust for territory, cash, power and violence by 54 ruthless cartels which have slaughtered as many as 85,000 people since 2006.
Victims – including thousands of police officers, politicians and members of the judicial system – are routinely shot, tortured with drills, dismembered with chainsaws, beheaded and burned alive to spread fear.
President Trump controversially wants to build a wall on the border, believing this will halt Mexican gangs and crime coming into the US.
Around 4,000 people have been killed in Mali since 2012.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took power in September 2013 but Islamist groups like al-Qaeda took root in the country’s north.
Britain helped French troops quell the uprising as we wanted to stop Mali being overrun by terrorists who would gain a foothold and plot attacks on Europe.
War and political instability in Afghanistan pose a serious threat to international peace and security, more than 15 years after U.S.-led coalition forces ousted the Taliban from power as part of a broader campaign to defeat al Qaeda. Today, the Taliban are gaining ground; the Haqqani network is responsible for attacks in major cities; and the Islamic State has claimed a series of attacks targeting Shiite Muslims that appear intent on stoking sectarian violence. The number of armed clashes last year reached the highest level since the U.N. started recording incidents in 2007, with large numbers of civilian casualties. Further weakening of the Afghan security forces would risk leaving large ungoverned spaces that could be exploited by regional and transnational militant groups.
America’s longest war barely registered as a policy issue during the U.S. presidential election. Trump’s intentions on Afghanistan remain unclear, though he has repeatedly expressed skepticism about nation building. His controversial choice for national security advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, served as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan. Flynn’s proclaimed focus on “radical Islamic terrorism” as the single-most important global threat misdiagnoses the problem, with worrying implications in Afghanistan and beyond. The strategic direction over time must be toward a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, which will require greater regional convergence as well as Chinese involvement. Meanwhile, Russia, Pakistan, and China have formed a working group on Afghanistan with the stated aim of creating a “regional anti-terrorism structure.” Kabul so far has been left out of the trilateral consultations.
Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have long been strained due to Islamabad’s support for the Taliban and other militant groups. Tensions increased last fall as thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan were forced to flee amid increased violence, detentions, and harassment. Afghanistan’s refugee crisis was made worse by the EU’s plan to deport 80,000 asylum-seekers back to Afghanistan — a politically driven response to a humanitarian emergency. All this on top of the country’s economic crisis adds heavy pressures on a dangerously weak state.
The Taliban are regaining power in Afghanistan despite there still being nearly 9,000 US troops in the country.
Now IS is trying to get a foothold in Afghanistan too – so it is vital that local security forces gain control.
This week President Trump ordered the dropping of the awesome “Mother of all Bombs” and the CIA may even help the Taliban fight IS.
The war in Yemen has created another humanitarian catastrophe, wrecking a country that was already the poorest in the Arab world. With millions of people now on the brink of famine, the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and political settlement is ever more urgent. Yemenis have suffered tremendous hardships from air bombardments, rocket attacks, and economic blockades. According to the U.N., approximately 4,000 civilians have been killed, the majority in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. All parties to the conflict stand accused of war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015 to counter advances made by the Houthis, a predominantly Zaydi Shiite militia viewed by Riyadh as a proxy for its archrival, Iran. Although the Houthis are not closely tied to Iran, it serves Tehran’s interests to have Saudi Arabia stuck in a vicious stalemate in Yemen.
Both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence and provocations, derailing U.N. peace talks. In November, the Saudi-backed Yemeni government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi rejected the U.N.’s proposed roadmap. That same month, the Houthi movement and its allies, mainly forces under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, formed a new government. Despite the challenges, it may still be possible to convince the parties to accept the roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end regional aspects of the war and return it to an inter-Yemeni process. Much depends on Saudi Arabia’s calculations and the willingness of its international sponsors, especially the United States and Britain, to encourage Riyadh to fully support the political compromise on offer. Failure to get the process back on track carries risks for all involved, as violent jihadi groups, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State, are thriving in Yemen’s chaos.
Both al-Qaeda and IS have fighters in Yemen, where over 7,600 people have been killed in the past two years.
Most died in air strikes by a Saudi-led, multi-national coalition that backs President Abdrabbuh Hadi. The turmoil has left 70 per cent of the population in need of aid.
Attacks on the West have originated in Yemen before so British authorities are keen to stop the fighting there.
6. East China sea
Tensions between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, an uninhabited chain both claim as their own, have been cranked up as incursions by ships increase.
7. South China sea
Arguments over territory and jurisdiction in the South China Sea continue to strain relations between Beijing and other governments in the south-east Asia region, risking a military escalation.
Since soon after the 9/11 outrage in 2001, war has been raging between the Taliban and Pakistanitroops.
But the country’s military and its spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, have also covertly supported the Taliban in Afghanistan – encouraging chaos there.
IS too has now spread to Pakistan, which is believed to have around 130 nuclear weapons in storage.
Many Britons have ties with Pakistan and we desperately need intelligence coming out of the country on terrorism to tackle it head-on.
9. North Korea
Despot Kim Jong-un has executed around 100 state officials since he took over as leader five years ago.
His secretive country has at least 10 nuclear weapons and continues to threaten South Korea and America.
Technically, it has never stopped being at war with the South since 1953.
The regime lets thousands of its citizens die every year in a nation ravaged by disease.
A US Navy carrier strike group is heading to the Korean Peninsula by President Trump, triggering hints of an aggressive response.
The 2003 US-led Iraq war killed up to a million Iraqis, gave birth to Islamic State and left 179 UK troops dead.
Now Britain and America are backing Iraqi forces as they battle IS fighters holding out in Mosul.
Barely a week goes by without news of suicide bombings and other terror atrocities across this wartorn nation.
Britain has a duty to help wipe out IS in Iraq since we took part in the disastrously mishandled aftermath of the 2003 invasion, which gave rise to the terror group.
With 20-30 million Kurds in the Middle East there are populations in Iraq, Syria and Iran – and make up a fifth of Turkey’s population.
Turkey is fighting the Kurdish Workers Party the PKK, is hostile to the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party’s armed wing, the YPG, but has good relations with the Kurdish Peshmerga of Northern Iraq.
The Turkish and Syrian Kurds are fighting IS and others in Syria but are against the Turkish government.
Many British Kurds have relatives in the region.
Nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s population is made up of Syrian refugees and sectarian division has risen as IS battles with the Shia militant group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is deeply involved in Syria, where it backs regime forces. Some 1,200 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria.
And IS has been bombing Beirut in revenge for Hezbollah’s stance. Lebanon is vital in a strategic sense.
It is on Israel’s doorstep– so jihadist groups must not get a foothold there.
At least 35,000 people have been killed since the Arab Spring uprising in which despot leader Muammar Gaddafi died in 2011.
British forces backed the rebellion with airstrikes and artillery but the civil war caused a power vacuum.
Al-Qaeda and IS gained a foothold and the battle is still underway to wipe them out.
Military sources say our special forces have been there for some time as Libya is the gateway to Europe.
Gaddafi was shot at close quarters after being seized by rebels in Sirte.
14. Democratic Republic Of Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo received some good news shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve when Catholic bishops announced that a deal had been reached to resolve the country’s political crisis. President Joseph Kabila has not yet signed on to the agreement, which requires him to step down after elections are held, sometime before the end of 2017. Despite high levels of mistrust between the parties, the deal mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church remains the best chance for a path forward. The overarching challenge now is to prepare for elections and a peaceful transition in short order, for which solid international backing is essential.
Kabila’s determination to cling to power beyond his second term, in defiance of the Congolese Constitution, met with significant opposition and volatile street protests throughout 2016 — and threatens more widespread violence to come. Congo’s endemic corruption and winner-takes-all politics mean Kabila’s entourage has much to lose, so they may not let go easily. African and Western powers need to coordinate efforts to pull Congo back from the brink and prevent further regional instability. MONUSCO, the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping mission, does not have the capacity to deal with such challenges and would be more effective with a narrower mandate, moving away from institution building and toward good offices and human rights monitoring.
Last September, at least 53 people were killed, mostly by security forces, when demonstrations against Kabila’s rule beyond the end of his mandate turned violent. Clashes between security forces and protesters in several cities around the end of his term, on Dec. 19 and 20, reportedly killed at least 40 people. Violence is likely to continue if the elections are again postponed. The main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, will be prepared to harness the power of the street to try to force Kabila out. The political tension in Kinshasa is also contributing to increased violence in pockets throughout the country, including the conflict-ridden east.
More than 70 groups are fighting despite the presence of 20,000 UN troops.
The war is rooted in the refugee crisis which followed the killing of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
Two million Hutus, who had committed genocide, fled to Congo and formed armed groups. Opposing Tutsis and other rebel groups arose.
The Congolese government backed off and five million may have been killed.
Britain takes a huge interest in any conflict where so much war-crime is committed.
Al-Shabaab has 9,000 fighters in Somalia but since closing ground in the capital Mogadishu after 2011, the terror group is weakened.
British fugitive Samantha Lewthwaite, 33 – the so-called White Widow – fled there and is believed to have directed terror raids, suicide attacks and car bombings in Somalia and Kenya.
The mother of four was married to Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 bombers who killed 52 people in London in 2005.
IS has a foothold in Somalia and is trying to recruit Al-Shabaab fighters.
With continued violence in Kashmir and a heightened terror threat by Pakistan-based militant groups, the threat of a clash between India and its neighbour Pakistan is high.
Both have maintained a fragile ceasefire since 2003 but still exchange fire across the contested border.
Any conflict between these two countries is likely to be extremely bloody and could reduce security in the UK.
The tension between Israel and Palestine pervades Asia and the wider Muslim world.
Israel has forced tens of thousands of Arabs from homes in land grabs.
Refugee camps are crammed and the debate over a “two-state solution” to solve the conflict continues.
Tensions are high between Israelis and Palestinians in the territories of Gaza, controlled by fundamentalist group Hamas, and The West Bank.
Former British PM Tony Blair tried – and failed – in a bid to bring peace to the region as a Middle East envoy.
18. South Sudan
After three years of civil war, the world’s youngest country is still bedeviled by multiple conflicts. Grievances with the central government and cycles of ethnic violence fuel fighting that has internally displaced 1.8 million people and forced around 1.2 million to flee the country. There has been mounting international concern over reports of mass atrocities and the lack of progress toward implementing the 2015 peace agreement. In December, President Salva Kiir called for a renewed cease-fire and national dialogue to promote peace and reconciliation. Whether or not these efforts succeed depends on the transitional government’s willingness to negotiate fairly with individual armed groups and engage with disaffected communities at the grassroots level.
The internationally backed peace agreement was derailed in July 2016 when fighting flared in Jubabetween government forces and former rebels. Opposition leader and erstwhile Vice President Riek Machar, who had only recently returned to Juba under the terms of the deal, fled the country. Kiir has since strengthened his position in the capital and the region as a whole, which creates an opportunity to promote negotiations with elements of the armed opposition, including groups currently outside the transitional government.
The security situation in Juba has improved in recent months, although fighting and ethnic violence continue elsewhere. International diplomatic efforts are focused on the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force — a distraction that would do little to quell an outbreak of major violence and pulls energy away from the deeper political engagement needed to consolidate peace. The existing U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, needs urgent reform — which is especially clear following its failure to protect civilians during last July’s spasm of violence in Juba. A glimmer of hope in the country’s tragedy is the delicate rapprochement underway among South Sudan, Uganda, and Sudan that might one day help guarantee greater stability.
Over 50,000 people have been killed and more than 1.6 million displaced since war broke out in 2013.
A 2015 peace deal has since collapsed and a transitional government’s future is shaky as violence between groups and regime troops continue.
The British government is taking part in a massive programme to offer aid to South Sudan.
Our troops are taking part in training missions and mentoring security staff in an attempt to make the region safer.
Egypt’s war against Islamist militants in the Sinai has intensified against a backdrop of insurgency and rising terror atrocities.
Attacks in the country are the highest since the 1990s amid fears it will become a permanent base for IS.
Only last week 45 people died in bombings at two Coptic Christian churches.
Christians claim they are not being protected by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Tourist numbers to the country, a longtime favourite with Brits, have shrunk.
20. Central African Republic
Since 2013, 6,000 people have been killed in the Central African Republic, with 25 per cent of the 4.6 million population displaced.
After decades of instability an insurgency by the Seleka – primarily Muslim groups – has sparked mass violence.
They seized the capital Bangui and staged a coup in March 2013.
Christian fighters carried out reprisals against Seleka fighters. A stable Africa is vital to protect British investments across the continent and ensure the safety of consular staff.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent military intelligence into East Ukraine to take control of militia and threaten Kiev’s troops.
Shellings and fighting are frequent and ceasefires have been violated. A recent spike in violence and civilian casualties raised concerns of further escalation.
Russian muscle-flexing and violence against Ukraine must be controlled by NATO to keep Putin in check.
He respects robust action and the UK has deployed troops and warplanes all along the Baltic states.
Nearly 50,000 people have died in the war between regime forces and Islamic State-affiliates Boko Haram.
Since armed conflict broke out in 2011, 1.9million civilians have fled their homes.
The terror group – whose name means “western teaching is a sin” – triggered global outrage by kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in Chibok on April 14, 2014. Some 195 are still held hostage. British SAS have helped train Nigeria’s troops in how to smash the terror group.
Britain has a large ex-pat Nigerian community.
- This article was originally published on April 15, 2017