ACRPS Launches the Three Day Conference: Militias and Armies: Developments in Combat and Political Performance of Armed Non-State and State Actors.



The Second Day of the Militias and Armies Conference

The second day of the Militias and Armies Conference took off in Doha this morning with the panel on “Hybrid Warfare: Local Militias and Foreign States”, chaired by Younes Mohamed al-Dharb.

The first speaker, Anthony Chimente, began with his paper “The UAE and Proxy Warfare in Yemen: The Political and Military Role of Armed Non-State Surrogates,” examining the impact of Emirati military support on the development of combat compacities of proxy forces in Yemen.

Chimente predicted that these militias will develop into a strong independent non-state actor similar to Hezbollah or the Popular Mobilization Units, which could lead to the fragmentation of Yemen and deterioration of the conflict, restricting the possibility of security sector reform.

Göktuğ Sönmez followed with his paper, “Foreign Shi’i Fighters in the Syrian Civil War: Actors, Recruitment Strategies and Iran’s Regional Role”.

Sönmez looked at Iran’s proxy warfare efforts to shape its immediate geography through militias in Syria’s Civil War, focusing on Iran’s use of a transboundary strategy to ensure the regime’s authority in Syria through the Fatemiyoun and Zeynabiyoun militias.

Sönmez noted that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani has recently spurred a number of new recruits but wonders if the unifying effect of Soleimani’s assassination will continue to increase numbers joining militias, and if the success of current Shi’i recruitment strategies is sustainable in light of international developments.

Osama Kubaar was the final panellist this morning, discussing his paper “The Libyan National Army .. Militia in Libya. He traced Khalifa Haftar’s historical relationship with Gaddafi and his military background and challenged the notion that the LNA is entirely Libyan or a legitimate reflection of the Libyan public wishes.

Kubaar questioned if the LNA is a truly national force with geographical reach across the country, arguing that rather than being comprised of regular armed forces, it is made up of autonomous militia groups, foreign mercenaries and supported by external forces from Egypt, the Emirates and Sudan.

Kubaar concluded by detailing the impacts of hybrid warfare and the alliance between tribal militias, local warlords, Salafi armed networks and foreign units of regular armies on Libya’s prospects of peace, stability, and democratization.

The second session of the day “Global Politics of Combat”, was moderated by Hend Al Muftah.

Thomas H. Johnson spoke first on “The Afghan Taliban’s Developments in Combat and Political Performance.”

He argued that while the government of Afghanistan attempted to modernize and liberalize, the Taliban set out to revolutionize their structure and ideologies. Organizational alterations transitioned the Taliban away from a patrimonial structure and more towards a centralized structure.

Anna Bulakh followed with her paper “Resilience Building as Response to Russian Asymmetric Warfare in Ukraine”. She argued that the methods Russia applied to wage war targeted a key weak link—the lack of trust between society and government institutions.

The moment an aggressor succeeds in discrediting state actors it achieves momentum of controlling popular opinion in its favour.

The control and manipulation of the information in the region was core to prepare the ground for paramilitary proxies reaching the control of the enough terrain to shape the negotiations and continuous pressure on Ukraine’s government.

The final speaker on this panel, David Darchiashvili spoke on “August 2008: The Pinnacle of the Russo-Georgian Hybrid War,” arguing that after the annexation of Crimea and set-backs of Ukrainians in the battles of Ilovaisk and Debaltsevo, pro-Russian ANSAs failed to expand from the Eastern to the Southern Ukraine, grabbing the whole of the Ukrainian Black Sea coast, named in Russia as Novorossiya.

By 2003 nothing changed in Georgian political-military landscape. In 1999 Shevardnadze left the Collective Security Treaty. The US helped to raise few battalions for anti-terrorist purposes and in 2002 announced that Georgia was going to “knock” on the NATOs door.

The third and final panel of the day, “Militias to Armies”, was moderated by Abdelwahab El-Affendi.

The first speaker of the third session Hamid Ali began with his piece on the “Rapid Support Forces in Sudan: From Militia to Army”. He argued that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) evolved from a Janjaweed tribal force fighting on horsebacks to militiamen riding SUVs equipped with heavy machine guns.

This force performed effectively and turned the fortunes of the government side.

Tijana Rečević followed to present her research undertaken with Filip Ejdus on “Complex Links Between DDR, TJ and SSR: A Shadow of the Never Dismantled Paramilitary Units in Serbia”.

They found that since no external pressure for DDR was exercised over Serbia in the aftermath of the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, a chance for more responsibility in dealing with these issues arose with the victory of a democratic coalition in October 2000.

In exchange for their passivity during the revolution, some segments of the security forces managed to veto the lustration and opening of secret files from during the war and authoritarian rule thus ensuring near-total impunity for many officials who had been implicated in human rights abuses.

The final paper of the day, “From Insurgents to Regulars: The Military and Political Implications of the Peshmerga’s Transformation” was presented by Allan Hassaniyan on behalf of himself and Gareth Stansfield.

They argued that the Peshmerga has been in the process of being absorbed into a regularized military since the 1990s but that interaction between the Peshmerga and the political institutions of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has hindered the process.

The Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) attained a heightened level of international attention following the emergence of the Islamic State in the north of Iraq from 2014 onwards.

In recent years, several Western governments, including the US, UK, and Germany, have been involved in promoting a strategy to unify and normalize the Peshmerga forces, but with only a limited effect to date. 

Militias and Armies Conference Finishes Up in Doha

The ACRPS conference “Militias and Armies: Developments in Combat and Political Performance of Armed Non-State and State Actors” closed in Doha today.  

The first panel, “Armies: Centralisation and De-Centralisation” was introduced by session chair, Dana El Kurd.

Gregory Waters was the first speaker for the day, discussing his paper, “Assad’s Militias: Strength Through Decentralization.”

Waters breaks down a militia typology for the various loyalist Syrian militia groups and provided his analysis of three case studies: the Tiger Forces as an example of an intelligence-founded militia; the Qalamoun Shield Forces as an example of a Syrian Arab Army-founded militia and the 4th Division as an example of a military unit that has transformed into a militia over the course of the war.

He went on to assess Russian attempts to bring the various militias, who traditionally seek independence, under centralized command, with Moscow’s primary objective to return the monopoly of violence to the army.

Hamzeh Almoustafa spoke next on his paper, “The Combat Performance of Al-Nusra Front: The Transition from Jihadist Militia to the Syrian Salvation Government’s “Army”.”

He explored the combat performance and transformations of Al-Nusra, which most recently become Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, from its founding until it finally took sole control of Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian armed opposition.

His study monitors Al-Nusra’s transition from the guerrilla warfare and traditional methods by which they have been characterized to the institutionalization of their forces as a military wing of a political organization or executive government.

He follows an increase in organisation’s associates and resources, and a clear definition of its political project to establish a rational “Islamic government.”

Ahmed Hussein was the final speaker on this panel, discussing his paper “How Did Hamas Establish Its “Army?”

The Development of Al-Qassam Battalions’ Military Action in Palestine.” The development of Hamas as a regional military actor differed according to the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in terms of political thought and its interactions with the regional and international systems.

Hussein makes note of the generational polarization of Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries between the Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb camps, which influenced the development of Hamas and its military wing between 1967 and 87.

This shaped the changing identity of the movement, leading it to determine its interests and role in the region based on its military strength, with al-Qassam Brigades becoming a pseudo-classic army in Gaza.

The seventh & final panel of the conference looked at “Tactical Developments” and was moderated by Rashid Hamad Al-Nuaimi.

First speaker Hugo Kaaman discussed his piece on “How Car Bombs Became a Battlefield Weapon”.

He noted that the suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) has been one of ISIS’s most powerful and versatile weapons. Used extensively in active combat on the front lines, SVBIEDs were the primary means by which the group was able to capture territory and temporarily stave off advances by opposing forces. 

Second speaker Dan Gettinger followed with his paper on the topic of “Drone Wars: The Legacy of the ISIS Drone Program”.

Gettinger began by noting that in 2014, ISIS released an hour-long documentary that opened with drone footage of the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

The blurred and uneven aerial video looked amateurish, but it was a sign that a shift in warfare was underway. His work examines the various stages of the ISIS drone program and its legacy for security and warfare.

The proliferation of drones has directly boosted the counter-drone market as well as spurring growth of military “personal drones” and demand for consumer drones, with the aim of adapting consumer drones at a military level.

The third and final speaker of the day, Mohammed Al-Dorani presented his research on “Most Famous Cyber-Attacks: Nations States and Organized Groups.”

He began by noting that the market size for cyber security products and services is over USD 77 billion and is expected to triple this year, with attacks costing businesses up to USD 500 billion annually.

He went on to discuss famous cases such as the attack on the Nantaz plant in Iran, the attacks on Saudi Aramco and RasGas, and the 2017 attack on the Qatar News Agency, the repercussions of which are ongoing.

Cyber-attacks carried out by criminal, activist, or state-sponsored individuals or groups have increased over the past 5 years, not only impacting social, economic, & political landscapes, but also national security around the globe.



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