WASHINGTON, D.C. — This past year the world has experienced an upsurge in armed conflict involving a wide range of state and non-state actors, resulting in record numbers of internally displaced people, refugees and casualties among combatants and civilians. The list below, while not exhaustive, provides insight into five ongoing wars and conflicts across the globe.
Growing political tensions and infighting, amid fresh clashes with the Taliban, has created an increasingly volatile environment in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), heavy clashes with the Taliban in 2016 caused civilian casualties at the highest level since the U.N. began documentation seven years ago and has generated fresh displacements around the country. Despite the fact that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a drone strike in May 2016, the group has regularly launched relentless attacks around the country.
Adding to the instability, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has continuously attempted to establish a foothold in Afghanistan. ISIS has repeatedly targeted Shia Muslims and international forces using guerrilla tactics and suicide bombs, including one that injured five U.S. special operations troops in eastern Afghanistan.
Despite more than 20,000 U.S. and NATO forces remaining in the country to assist Afghan forces fighting insurgencies on multiple fronts, the country remains dangerously unstable and involves a complex mix of state and non-state actors.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
In defiance of recent gains made by the Iraqi Army, Syrian Army, Kurdish forces and U.S. led coalition forces, ISIS remains a major obstacle to peace not only in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan. Within the past year, the group has launched some of its most deadly terrorist attacks outside of the Middle East region, including in Bangladesh, Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, Pakistan and the U.S.
While it is difficult to quantify exactly how many the group has killed due to its expansive reach and attacks spanning multiple countries, the U.N. estimates ISIS is responsible for more than 18,000 civilian deaths in Iraq in the past two years alone. When added to the victims of terrorist attacks in Western and regional countries, along with those targeted in Syria, it is obvious that ISIS remains a severe threat to human security wherever its members and sympathizers operate.
Syrian Civil War
Now in its sixth year, the Syrian Civil War continues to rage on, and has created one of the most dire and complex humanitarian crises on earth. Recent reports put the death toll at 470,000, with more than one in ten Syrians having been wounded or killed. An estimated eight million Syrians have become displaced within the country, and another four and a half million have sought refuge in neighboring countries and beyond.
To make matters worse, the Syrian Civil War has spiraled into a convoluted proxy war between major powers involving Russia, Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S. and its allies on the other side. Adding to the chaos, the Syrian Army and rebel factions have also clashed with Kurdish militias, ISIS and other jihadist groups such as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front. Despite multiple attempts at ceasefire agreements, the war in Syria continues and has the potential to create a wider regional and global conflict among ongoing wars.
Yemeni Civil War
The Yemeni Civil War erupted in 2014 when Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sana’a and a large portion of northern Yemen, with support from ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh and other groups. Sitting President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his cabinet fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia, where a Saudi-led coalition was formed to counter the Houthi rebellion.
The U.N. estimates that approximately 10,000 have died from the resulting conflict, and a further three million have been displaced. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of indiscriminate airstrikes which have resulted in heavy civilian casualties, and has been accused by Human Rights Watch of violating the laws of war. Yemeni civilians have also been victims of blockades, restricting their freedom of movement and creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that 14.1 million civilians are dangerously close to starvation.
Similar to the situation in Syria, this conflict has evolved into a proxy conflict. With Saudi Arabia and Iran arming the warring sides, the ongoing war in Yemen is likely to continue as long as external countries vie for regional influence.
Boko Haram Insurgency
Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group operating in the Chad Basin region of West Africa, seeking to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish an Islamic state based on Sharia law. Its insurgency began in 2009 in Nigeria and has since spread to Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Boko Haram wreaks terror through a combination of abductions, assassinations and bombings, frequently targeting civilians and spreading terror.
The group is responsible for more than 47,000 deaths since May 2011 and has displaced 2.1 million people. Nigeria has undoubtedly been hit the hardest, accounting for more than 1.8 million displaced people, and 26,000 deaths in the northeastern state of Borno alone. Nigeria was also targeted in the infamous Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping in 2014, in which about 270 girls were abducted. Boko Haram now controls up to 20 percent of Nigeria and continues to inflict terror, violate human rights and leave millions without access to food, water, shelter or medical care throughout the entire Lake Chad region.
As evidenced by the sheer number of casualties and displacements caused by these ongoing wars, it appears these deplorable violent conflicts will continue to generate harrowing humanitarian emergencies to which the international community must respond.
– Brendan Hennessey