Evacuation of foreign students stranded in rural area in Egypt
January, 2011: Amidst a breakdown in public services and increasingly uncertain political and security situation unfolding nationwide, dozens of foreign entities from a variety of sectors requested evacuation simultaneously from Egypt. With many security providers overwhelmed and unprepared for requests of evacuation, MAX Security facilitated the safe evacuation of hundreds of expats based in the Middle East and North Africa.
One of the more challenging assignments was evacuating 38 U.S. university students and faculty, who were stranded near an archaeological site hundreds of miles from Cairo.
Within 12 hours, MAX Security implemented its evacuation procedure, providing ground security and transportation through our local contacts, led by the Max Egypt team with the official assistance of the Egyptian military.
In conjunction with real time intelligence support from Max’s intelligence division, the students and faculty were transported by land routes to a local airport. Max also chartered a private aircraft, placed on standby, in the event that commercial flights were halted.
The client contacts were briefed frequently throughout the process, providing updates every step of the way.
Result: Successful crisis response and evacuation to safety
The student group and their staff were evacuated safely and quickly from an outlying area in Egypt. The support provided guaranteed the safety and security of the personnel and saved the client potential financial loses and legal exposure.
Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria
There are those who argue that Egypt’s infamous dictator Hosni Mubarak sealed his own fate long before the first activists pitched their tents in Tahrir Square in January 2011. They say the countdown really began in 2010, when Mubarak’s eldest son Gamal pitched a bold economic reform package to weather Egypt through the global economic recession.
At the time, Gamal was known to be next in line to succeed his father. The plan would have essentially taken the regime’s massive economic holdings out of the hands of the military-backed older generation and put it into the hands of Gamal’s loyal young business class within the ruling NDP party. After the Arab Spring engulfed the country, the Egyptian military unsurprisingly had little motivation to save the embattled Mubarak family, instead organizing his dismissal and eventually enabling the trial of Hosni and his two sons on corruption charges.
Numerous comparisons between Egypt and Algeria have since been made in the global pundit-sphere. Most have focused on their respective battles with political Islam, but few have given credit to Algeria’s aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for recognizing Mubarak’s mistakes and keeping his regime afloat amid the storm of regional political upheaval.
Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701
On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.
Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701→
Intelligence Analysis: Assad regime gains push back prospects for rebel victory
While many pundits continually debate a timeframe for Assad’s downfall, the regime is on the offensive, pushing back their estimations. In recent weeks, Assad’s forces have succeeded in securing several tactical victories, mainly in Damascus, Idlib Province, and around Homs, all the while preventing additional rebel gains around Deraa. Overall, those tactical developments are likely to further secure the capital’s northern and southern flanks and supply lines to other government-controlled cities while furthering the process of isolating and eliminating opposition strongholds around Damascus. The rebels, therefore, will not be taking Syria’s capital anytime soon.
Syrian military and loyalist gains in Damascus are likely to continue in the near term, as tenuous advances in Homs and Idlib provinces and the continued holding of strategic areas in southern Syria will inhibit rebel efforts to bring more fighters and supplies to the four Damascus fronts. While not given the publicity it deserves, much of Assad’s recent successes in the Homs region could be credited to Hezbollah’s increased intervention from Lebanon. This intervention has furthered tensions in Lebanon, but burgeoned Assad’s strength between Damascus, the Alawite stronghold of Latakia, and Homs. It now appears that both Hezbollah and Syrian government troops are set to enter the main rebel-held town in the area, al-Qusayr. Rebel fighters inside Damascus, meanwhile, are increasingly finding themselves isolated and outgunned. They are left mostly defending positions determined following the stalling of their last capital offensive that began in November 2012.
The latest regime offensives in Damascus were a likely answer to rebel gains near Jordan and Israel, and thus meant to preempt another rebel attempt to ride their momentum for a push into the heart of Damascus. By taking the initiative, regime troops and loyalist militias have become increasingly able to isolate opposition bastions in the capital’s outskirts. Layered defenses in the capital, barrages of indirect fire, long supply lines, and local opposition to rebel gains are also likely contributing to the opposition’s general inability to move beyond their initial strongholds.
Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict
“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.
Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.
Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.
Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists
The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.
On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.
Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.
On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.
Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.
Strategic Analysis: Repercussions of peacekeeper kidnapping on stability in the Golan Heights
On March 6, Syrian rebel fighters in the Golan Heights region released footage of a UN peacekeepers’ convoy which they claimed to have detained. The incident occurred near the Israeli border, with approximately 20 Filipino troops detained and taken to a rebel-designated “safe area.” Intentional or not, the young, unsuspecting rebels speaking in the video may have set in motion a chain of events which may lead to a dangerous deterioration on the once-peaceful Israeli-Syrian border, with no turning back.
The convoy was seized by over 30 rebels after it allegedly entered a rebel combat zone near the UN-designated demilitarized zone which separates the Israeli and Syrian borders. In the video, rebels accused the UN force of assisting the Assad regime, while demanding the Syrian military withdraw from the nearby village of Jamla in exchange for their release. The rebels claimed to be part of the Yarmouk Brigade, a unit which includes radical jihadists and has taken part in recent fighting in the Golan Heights. The UN force has insisted that the troops did not enter a combat area.
There are currently over 1,000 foreign troops operating in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which has been in place in the Golan Height’s demilitarized zone since 1974, as part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria. Croatia recently withdrew all of its 100 troops from the UNDOF over concerns for their safety after it was reported that Croatian weapons were being delivered to rebel forces.
Strategic Analysis: Prospects for a negotiated solution in Syria
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s a lesson that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), likely learned when he sparked a firestorm within the Syrian opposition after declaring his willingness to enter into negotiations with the Assad regime on January 30. As part of his stated conditions, al-Khatib demanded the release of 160,000 political prisoners being held by the Assad regime and the renewal of expired passports for Syrian dissidents abroad.
Until al-Khatib’s remarks, the SNC’s official stance had been to reject all negotiations with the Assad regime unless the embattled dictator agrees to relinquish power. It this comes as no surprise that other SNC officials and their backers in the region were quick to denounce al-Khatib’s statements as unrepresentative of the coalition’s policies. On February 5, the Coalition came together to issue an official rejection of al-Khatib’s proposal, even after it had been softened to include demanding that Assad cede power as an outcome.
Their outrage did little to stop al-Khatib from reiterating his willingness to negotiate during a security conference in Munich, where he also met with Russian and Iranian officials.
The locally-based Syrian-based National Coordination Committee, which initially organized non-violent protests, offered its support for al-Khatib, reiterating its stance that a political solution must be found to end the conflict. The Assad regime has yet to offer an official response, although a regime source described the development as positive.
Intelligence Analysis: Jihadist militant threats in North Africa and the Sahel
By now the name Mokhtar Belmokhtar is familiar to anyone watching security-related events unfold in Saharan Africa. Since a January 16 raid executed by his “Masked Brigade” in Algeria, which led to the deaths of dozens of hostages, the one-eyed smuggler extraordinaire’s picture has been broadcast across TV and computer screens worldwide. As Western policymakers continue to adjust their strategy in the war on terror, it is important to understand Belmokhtar’s accomplishment in its true context: a victory of a thriving jihadist operational network.
As it turns out, the Masked Brigade’s attack was not, as reports originally indicated, a reprisal for French intervention in northern Mali. In fact, Western security officials recently stated that the attack was planned before January 11, when France intervened. This instead was simply intended to be a standard kidnap-and-ransom mission – a fundraiser and terrorist attack rolled into one.
However, northern Mali does play a role in the attack’s execution. The region has become a sanctuary for militants from Nigeria to Somalia who need free range to learn from experienced veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Belmokhtar’s men trained for and planned their attack in northern Mali. They raised funds by ransoming kidnap victims and smuggling drugs, as well as Belmokhtar’s trademark product, Marlboro cigarettes. They also smuggled fighters and weapons, many of which came from the caches of Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Ghaddafi.
Intelligence Analysis: Risks of PKK-Turkey disarmament talks
In recent weeks, dialogue efforts between the Turkish government and Abdullah Ocalan, a prominent imprisoned Kurdish separatist leader have intensified, with the stated aim of disarming the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), after three decades of conflict and over 40,000 deaths. On January 8, Turkish media outlets published reports which cautiously indicated that negotiations with Ocalan had yielded a potential four-point roadmap for PKK disarmament in exchange for minority rights and amnesty for thousands of Kurdish prisoners in Turkish jails. Notably, calls for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey were not mentioned as part of Ocalan’s demands.
While the both sides have refused to verify reports of an agreement, the Erdogan administration did concede that pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Ayla Akat Ata and Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk met with Ocalan on December 29 on Imrali Island, where he has been imprisoned since 1999. Until that visit, the infamous PKK founder had only been permitted to speak with Turkish military and intelligence officials. Ocalan, long considered the godfather of terrorism in Turkey, reportedly told the Kurdish lawmakers that the time for armed struggle has ended.
2012 was reported as the deadliest year of PKK related violence in over a decade with a noticeable uptick in civilian casualties. While the PKK has traditionally focused its attacks on Turkish security installations and personnel, the recent spike in attacks targeting civilians suggests more radical offshoots such as the the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) are gaining influence. With that being said, Ankara’s renewed efforts to formulate a ceasefire are likely an attempt to quell the increased radicalism within the Kurdish separatist camp while also attempting to discontinue the perpetuation of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict over the long term.