Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The world is at war, but most conflicts are not between nations

Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ukraine — the globe is scarred by violence

By Jason Burke  /  The Observer

These still remain a draw, even if there is no appetite among its neighbors to risk the sort of chaos that led to the deaths of more than 5 million people.

Yet the signs of deterioration are there — a weak central authority under DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, who has outstayed his mandate by 15 months; crumbling law and order in places where there was never much government control; a growing conflict between warlords and ethnic communities; a fractured opposition; a distracted international community; and huge humanitarian need.

Will the war restart?

The killing and the dying has started already, with a violent rebel movement in the Kasai region prompting a brutal government response that has led to mass displacement.

Cholera and other diseases surge through vulnerable populations.

The UN deployment in DR Congo suffers increasing attacks, with the deaths of 14 peacekeepers in December last year, the worst single loss suffered by the organization since 1993.

Elections are due to be held in December, though many doubt they will take place.

The polls are a chance to arrest the slide of one of Africa’s most important states back into even greater poverty and conflict.

Few are optimistic.


Afghanistan has not known peace since the mid-1970s.

The current conflict, which pits the Taliban and other Islamist extremists against the government in Kabul, started in 2001 with the US-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The US has supported, first former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and then his successor, Ghani, with huge amounts of military and other aid.

More than 2,000 US troops have died, 10 times as many Afghan troops, and at least 30,000 civilians. Yet the Taliban today is active in more than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s administrative districts, though it controls fewer than one in 20.

In 2015, the movement temporarily seized the northern the city of Kunduz.

Why has the war lasted so long?

One reason is strategic mistakes made by the US and its allies in the immediate years after the 2001 invasion.

The effort in Afghanistan was poorly resourced and misdirected. Missed early opportunities to construct a stable political settlement and score relatively easy military victories proved expensive.

Another key factor is the involvement of regional powers, primarily Pakistan. Islamabad sees having a friendly government in Kabul as critical to its strategic security and has backed the Taliban as a proxy, providing logistic aid and a safe haven to leaders.

However, there are other reasons.

Almost all of the areas where support for the Taliban is high are dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, especially those controlled by certain tribes. Opium-growing zones are also prominent.

It is striking how closely the map of Taliban influence today mirrors that of 20 years ago, when the movement surged to power. Then, as now, Afghanistan’s reputation as the “graveyard of empires” rests on solid, if fractured, ground.


In February, it was four years since Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and helped foment a rebellion in the industrial east of Ukraine, a former “Soviet republic” independent since 1991 that lies on one of the greatest cultural and linguistic fracture lines in the world today.

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