Written by Jacob Dickinson, Roos Nijmeijers, Sara Frisan, Mark Bruno
Russia-Ukraine: Progress in Ukraine's counter-offensive as President Zelensky asks for continued support.
Azerbaijan-Armenia: Outbreak of conflict as Azerbaijan's military moves into Nagorno-Karabakh.
Serbia-Kosovo: Terrorist attacks in the north of Kosovo heighten tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.
Sudan: Intense fighting continues in Sudan with infrastructure damage and extensive civilian casualties.
Gabon and Niger: Military leaders seize power from democratic governments.
DRC: Protests against unpopular UN peacekeeping missions and crackdown on protestors.
Myanmar: Civil war continues as opposition forces target the regime's military infrastructure.
Ethiopia: The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency following escalation of violence.
Somaliland: Rise in terrorist attacks against civilians following a crackdown on Al-Shabab.
Ecuador: Escalating violence and insecurity in Ecuador as gangs compete over cocaine trafficking routes.
Pakistan: Pakistan continues to face political instability as economic crisis worsens.
China-Taiwan: China conducts military exercises in the South Pacific and send record numbers of aircraft into Taiwan's airspace
Haiti: Haiti sees rising gang violence as Haiti's Prime Minister calls for international intervention.
South China Sea: Regional tensions rise over Chinese territorial claims.
Conflicts, September 2023
Ukraine’s counter-offensive has made progress to the south of Bakhmut. Attacks against targets in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea continue to escalate with both unmanned weapons systems and irregular ground forces. A 25 September 2023 aerial attack on Odessa has left the port facilities damaged. Notably, two Russian vessels in Sevastopol were destroyed, including a kilo-class submarine.
President Zelensky attempted to encourage international support at the UN General Assembly in September. This preceded mixed political responses from the US Congress and attacks from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) regarding food import and export policies. Canada’s response proved more positive as further economic ties between Kyiv and Ottawa were signed. Despite the increased impact of sanctions against Russia, US government sources assess that Russian missile production has increased to pre-war levels, though at great cost to the economy. Nevertheless, reports have emerged that two-thirds of Russian oil exports have avoided the price cap sanctions imposed by the G7.
On 19 September, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where 120,000 ethnic Armenians live. The Karabakh capital Stepanakert was heavily shelled and an estimated 200 people died during the Azeri offensive, according to Karabakh officials. After two days, Azerbaijan regained total control over Nagorno-Karabakh following a ceasefire agreement and the abdication of the authorities that governed the enclave.
As Azerbaijan regains control over the region, there are growing fears of an ethnic cleansing campaign causing many ethnic Armenian residents to flee to neighboring Armenia. Meanwhile, Turkish-Azeri relations are being strengthened, causing fear in the region of further instability. As Azerbaijan successfully conquered Nagorno-Karabakh, it is feared that their military campaign will not stop there. The Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, bordering Turkey, is separated by the Armenian region of Zangezur. Together with Turkey, Azerbaijan may want to establish a corridor through Armenia, connecting the main part of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan and ultimately Turkey. Azerbaijan has stated that they are willing to use force if necessary, which could lead to the Azeri army entering southern Armenia.
On 24 September, 30 armed gunmen ambushed a Kosovar police patrol and fled into a monastery in the majority ethnic-Serb north of Kosovo. The following siege resulted in the death of one Kosovar police officer and three gunmen, as the paramilitary group crossed into Serbia. Kosovar police eventually arrested other civilians involved, discovering weapons and communications equipment to support the operation.
EU-led diplomatic talks between the two countries have stalled following the attack. Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti accused Serbia of directly supplying the gunmen with uniforms and claimed that the paramilitary leader was closely affiliated with Serbia’s President Vucic. Serbian leader Vucic accused Kosovo of inflaming tensions in the north of Kosovo by not respecting the wishes of ethnic Serbs in the region. He subsequently requested the NATO-led peacekeeping mission to replace the Kosovo police force with NATO troops and remove Kurti from the area. NATO subsequently rejected the proposal and called for calm between the two countries.
September has been a violent month in the capital of Khartoum as fighting continues between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The death of Abdelazim Suleiman Jumah, a key figure in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Democratic Revolutionary Movement, marked an escalation in hostilities. Ukrainian Special Operations are suspected of killing Wagner Group fighters in Khartoum with improvised drone strikes.
SAF commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan issued a constitutional decree to dissolve the rival RSF on 6 September 2023, alongside U.S. sanctions placed on RSF commanders due to human rights abuses. RSF commander Hemedti threatened to establish an independent government in Khartoum. During the UN General Assembly, al-Burhan designated the RSF a terrorist organization and underscored the potential regional implications of the current conflict.
The security situation in the DRC is worsening. The presence of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, which has been in the DRC for 25 years, has become increasingly unpopular. The East African Community (EAC) has pushed the armed group M23 out of some parts of the occupied parts of the DRC, but has failed to end the conflict with the armed group. Critics say they have failed in their mission to protect citizens from rebellion and armed conflict. Protests in Goma against the UN peacekeeping and the East African Community (EAC) resulted in a crackdown by government authorities. On September 5, six soldiers were charged for killing 56 people in an army crackdown in the eastern DRC.
President Tshisekedi has asked the UN to end the peacekeeping mission by the end of this year. The DRC government, along with the U.S., several Western countries and UN experts, has accused neighboring Rwanda, a member of the EAC, of supporting the M23. Tshisekedi says Rwanda’s support to the M23 is for its own exploitation and profit.
On August 4, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency, following the escalation of violence and clashes in Amhara region between the Fano militia group and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Reports have emerged of alleged atrocities and arbitrary mass detentions of civilians carried out by the government. On August 29, the UN claimed that at least 183 people have been killed during clashes since July. Despite the peace agreement signed in November 2022, the region is still experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. The United Nations has reported persistent sexual crimes and rape against civilians by Eritrean troops still in the territory. Heavy clashes with civilians involved have also been reported in the Oromia region between Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and State forces.
Somalia is contending with the aftermath of a violent truck bombing that occurred on 23 September 2023 in the town of Beledweyne. Estimates of the death toll have ranged between 18 and 30, with at least 40 bystanders injured in the attack. No group has claimed responsibility as of 25 September, but police officials have pointed out that the attack comes after the government has intensified attacks against al-Shabab (an al-Qaeda-linked organization). The Somali government has asked the UN Security Council’s African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) to delay the reduction of its presence in the country until December, which was originally slated to draw down 3000 personnel by the end of the month. Somalia is also the subject of competing grain deals with Russia and Ukraine, the latter of which has largely increased its supply to Somalia in recent months.
In September, Haiti continued to see rising gang violence following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. Armed groups are prevalent in the neighborhoods of Carrefour-Feuilles and Savanes Pistache of the capital Port-au-Prince. More than 19,000 people were driven out of their homes in September. The situation has also been worsened by the closure of all borders, by land, sea, or air, by the Dominican Republic, the main destination for Haitian migrants. On September 19, Jimmy Chérizier, leader of Haiti's most powerful gang, called for the armed overthrow of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, threatening daily demonstrations and armed clashes for as long as the Prime Minister remains in office. Haiti's Prime Minister repeatedly called for international intervention to help quell the gang-armed violence. On September 20, Haiti setup diplomatic relations with Kenya, which will likely lead a United Nations multinational security force to support and train local police. The UN Security Council could decide on international intervention in Haiti in the coming days or weeks.
Alerts and developing situations
On August 30 2023, Gabon’s military seized power in a coup to oust president Ali Bongo, making a move away from democratic governments in the region. Military juntas have been in power in Chad, Guinea, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan since 2020. Military leaders have exploited rising disenchantment with civilian leaders, who are struggling to address attacks by armed groups on civilians and rising poverty levels.
The regional organization ECOWAS stated that it was willing to use military force to reinstate the ousted president in Niger. Nigeria, Rwanda and Cameroon announced military reshuffles shortly after the coup in Gabon. As many of the military coups led to heavy criticsm of France’s military interventions, France is facing questions over the efficacy of their international interventions in the region and the apparent willingness of new military governments to look to Russia for any kind of support.
Ecuador is experiencing an unprecedented spiral of violence. Over the past two years, the country has shifted from being the most peaceful in the Latin American region to being ranked fourth-highest in homicide rate. The security crisis has been sparked by criminal groups and gangs, local and foreign, who are taking advantage and competing over the country's strategic role in global cocaine trafficking routes.
The country faces a political crisis, which began on May 17, with the impeachment trial against President Lasso. As a result, President Lasso dissolved the opposition-led National Assembly and called snap presidential and legislative elections on August 20. As no candidate was able to secure an absolute majority, a run-off election will be held on 15 October. The months leading up to the August election have been marked by escalating political violence targeting politicians and local officials, culminating in the assassination by a gunman of Fernando Villavicencio, one of the front-runners for president, on August 9. The same day, President Lasso announced a 60-day national emergency. The spike in crime spurred widespread distrust in authorities' ability to provide security, triggering the expansion of vigilante and self-defense groups.
Pakistan faces ongoing protests and political instability while attempting to face off an economic crisis. Protests against rising electricity and fuel prices across the country have been ongoing since August 23. The Supreme Court dropped corruption charges against Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who still has a political following in the country. He is also being charged with leaking state secrets, adding to the more than 100 charges leveled against him since his removal from power. Khan remains in jail however, with the military targeting his supporters and holding greater sway in the government. The planned elections of Pakistan have been delayed from October to the last week of January.
Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan has seen several skirmishes between the Taliban and Pakistan security forces. In early September, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an ideologically aligned group with the Taliban in Afghanistan, claimed they attacked two military checkpoints in the Chitral district in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This was one of 300 attacks in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year.
China’s People’s Liberation Army conducted the largest number of aircraft incursions into Taiwan’s airspace to date on 18 September. The Chinese navy also began military exercises to the south of the island, deploying China’s aircraft carrier. The exercises are meant to simulate a potential blockade of Taiwan’s ports. China claims it is targeting ‘separatist forces’ seeking to break Taiwan away from China’s sovereignty over the island. China is likely to apply pressure to gain a more China-friendly candidate in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election in January 2024. Taiwan has become a flashpoint in US-China competition and regional responses with military build-ups are rapidly reshaping Asia’s geopolitics.
South China Sea:
In September, tensions in the South China Sea rose as states in Southeast Asia began to respond to China’s assertiveness. On the 25th September, the Philippines removed a Chinese barrier to the Scarborough Shoal, a contested island which the Philippines claims as its territory. The Chinese coast guard issued radio challenges to the Philippines vessels, accusing them of violating international law. Japan cautioned calm and said the South China Sea was a key part of regional stability. This comes as maritime ASEAN states launched new joint military exercises in response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, and Vietnam upgraded diplomatic ties with the US to improve security and economic cooperation.
Following up on previous conflict monitoring reports
In September, fighting from opposition forces in Myanmar’s bloody civil war picked up as they launched attacks on junta-controlled convoys and infrastructure. The military junta has shifted tactics from arson of entire villages to using more selective intelligence to help identify and kill resistance fighters. Despite extensive sabotage against the junta’s military infrastructure in the east of the country, the regime’s air and artillery capabilities prevent either side from gaining control over the country. On the border with Thailand, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) is the largest resistance movement, attempting to mobilize anti-regime forces against the junta. As a sign of the junta’s loss of credibility in Southeast Asia, the ASEAN regional group directly condemned the military actions for the first time in a joint published communique.
About the authors
Jacob studied Global Political Economy at Leiden University. He is passionate about international development and is looking to expand his expertise in geopolitics and crisis management. Curious about other cultures, he has traveled in Europe and Asia for both academic study and professional purposes. His expertise includes the geopolitics of oil and industrial upgrading in the electronics global value chain. He is particularly interested in the evolving political and economic relationships between China and ASEAN, and the consequences for regional development and security.
Roos works as a junior intelligence/research analyst. She is also currently doing the Bachelor of Security Studies at Leiden University. She has always loved the security field and she immediately got the right feeling when meeting Dyami's team for the first time. With the wide range of knowledge she accumulated thanks to her bachelor’s program, she brings new aspects to the intelligence department and helps us write insightful products.
Sara Frisan joined Dyami as a Junior Intelligence/Research Analyst post-graduate intern to deepen her passionate interest in conflict analysis and security. Sara recently completed her MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University and held an MA degree in International Sciences and Peace Studies. During her academic career, she conducted research in South America, primarily Colombia, on the dynamics of collaboration and resistance between civilians and non-state armed groups in violent settings. In her previous internship at the investigative think-tank InSight Crime, Sara developed some expertise on transnational organized crime and political-criminal alliances.
Mark Bruno is a non-commissioned officer transitioning out of the United States military, where he served as a Combat Medic and a Public Affairs Representative. He is currently a Master’s Student of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance at Western Governors University, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Aspiring to a career in Conflict Journalism, his areas of security interest are in military medicine, information security, and weapons technology.