Ones to Watch: 21 August 2017

Americas: Mapuche-related violence to persist

Sectors: cargo transport; forestry; agriculture; security forces
Key Risks: terrorism; commercial/property damage; cargo disruption

In Chile, attacks against forestry, agriculture and transport personnel and assets will remain a concern in the southern Araucania, Bio Bio and Los Rios regions as indicated by the latest incident in Temuco, Araucania on 19 August. 18 trucks employed by the Luchetti and CCU companies to transport food were burned by a group of unidentified assailants which the authorities linked to the radical indigenous Mapuche group Weichan Auka Mapu. At least 13 of the 18 vehicles were completely destroyed. Although most of the Mapuche-related incidents tend to be arson attacks, the police stated the attackers were armed and threatened security guards and drivers before setting the vehicles on fire, underscoring the risk of further violence. The longstanding conflict with the indigenous Mapuche, although a persistent concern, is expected to remain geographically localised, with incidents relatively sporadic and low-tech.

Asia-Pacific: Ten days of US-South Korea war games to test Kim’s patience

Sectors: all
Key Risks: external conflict

Each year the United States and South Korea hold the Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint drills to rehearse their responses to an attack from North Korea, and each year Pyongyang rails against supposed provocations and threats to its sovereignty. Yet as this year’s drills commence on 21 August and run until the end of the month, tensions on the Korean peninsula are particularly high. A spate of missile test launches this year have shown that Kim Jong-un’s dysfunctional regime is on the cusp of having the capabilities to attach a miniaturised nuclear warhead onto an intercontinental ballistic missile. After US President Donald Trump threatened him with ‘fire and fury’, Kim threatened to attack Guam. North Korea usually reacts to the Ulchi drills by testing its latest advances – but with tensions already elevated, it may respond even more dangerously this year.

Eurasia: Trump set to announce new Afghanistan strategy

Sectors: all
Key Risks: all

US President Donald Trump is set to announce a new military strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan later on 21 August. Unlike nearly every other policy development since Trump’s inauguration, there has been little leaking with regards to details of the plan Trump has chosen. However, he was known to be considering a plan backed by Erik Prince, the brother of his Education Secretary Betsy De Vos, to have private military contractors carry out significant anti-terrorist operations as well as to increase Afghanistan’s aerial observation and fighting capabilities. These would prove extremely controversial were they to come to pass. The conflict in Afghanistan is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Any strategy is likely to have only a limited impact in the short term given there is little support in the US for a massive increase in troop deployments to the country.

Europe: Serbia withdraws diplomats from Macedonia, Spain suffers major terror attack

Sectors: all
Key Risks: terrorism, conflict, civil unrest

The 17 May dual attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were the first major Islamist terror attacks in Spain since 2004 and highlight continued activity by Islamist sympathisers in the Catalonia region. Although Spanish police have announced they broke up the cell responsible, killing a number of members following the latter attack and arresting three, at least one suspect remains at large as of the time of publication. The incidents will raise concerns over the re-emergence of such cells in Spain in recent years, as they had largely been thought to have been broken up nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile on 20 August, Serbia unexpectedly withdrew its diplomats from Macedonia, reportedly following reports of a planned provocation by ethnic Albanians, which could cause a rupture in regional ties and drag Kosovo and Albania into the crisis.

MENA: Tal Afar offensive against Islamic State begins

Sectors: all
Key Risks: all

In Iraq, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced the launch of the offensive against Islamic State (IS) in Tal Afar, north-west of Mosul in Ninawa province. IS retains control of Tal Afar, the town of Hawijah and the surrounding area in Kirkuk province, and across the desert in Ninawa and Anbar provinces. The same forces engaged in the Mosul offensive, the Counter Terrorism Service and Federal Police units, are involved in Tal Afar, with additional support from Hashd al-Shaabi Shi’ah militia coalition units. 30,000 civilians have reportedly already escaped Tal Afar. Federal Police and Hashd al-Shaabi forces have reportedly already retaken 12 villages on the eastern and southern outskirts. The offensive against IS in Hawijah in Kirkuk province is unlikely to begin until Tal Afar is successfully secured. Tal Afar will likely take several weeks to recapture, and potentially several months.

Sub-Saharan Africa: South Sudan government and UN on collision course

Sectors: all
Key Risks: internal conflict

The long-awaited deployment of a 4,000-strong UN-mandated Regional Protection Force (RPF) to South Sudan began on 7 August when a Rwandan battalion arrived in the capital Juba. However, it did not take long for the force to fall foul of President Salva Kiir, who on 20 August warned he could reverse his decision to allow the deployment. Kiir accused the UN of wanting to control the airport, which the government continues to label off limits. UNMISS head David Shearer denied the force was there to control the airport, but on 21 August a government spokesperson announced UN peacekeeping planes had been grounded and accused the RPF of attempting to illegally occupy the airport. The government has repeatedly obstructed UN activities and the latest dispute could lead to further delays in the deployment of the rest of the peacekeeping force.