Violent Extremism and Development
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) strives to prevent and promote violent extremism and development respectively. USAID’s mission is to “end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing [America’s] security and prosperity.” The mission itself outlines the answer in the fight against violent extremism: development.

What is Development?

While economic growth is a necessary condition for development, development is a broader concept that covers both social and economic progress. Dr. Amartya Sen, an economics professor at Harvard University who was awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1998, has said that development is about creating freedom and eliminating obstacles to greater freedom. According to Sen, obstacles include:

  • Corruption
  • Poor governance
  • Poverty
  • Lack of economic opportunities
  • Lack of education
  • Lack of health

Freedom is hard to measure, but other indicators illustrate the concrete aspects of development. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) uses the Human Development Index (HDI) to measure development. The HDI tracks changes in three areas: per capita income, health and education.

To track per capita income, the HDI measures GDP per capita, which specifically indicates material standards of living. For health, the HDI measures life expectancy, which is typically higher in more developed countries and which can be affected by the availability of food, war and rates of disease and natural disasters.

For education, the HDI measures adult literacy through the International Adult Literacy Survey. The Survey tests subjects’ abilities to understand and interpret text as well as to perform basic arithmetic.

The Relationship Between Violent Extremism and Development

Violent extremism and development have an inverse relationship: the more developed a country, the less likely it is for violent extremism to emerge; while development impedes violent extremism, violent extremism also impedes development.

Violent extremism impedes economic growth, and therefore development, by discouraging long-term investments. People living in areas plagued by violent extremism do not feel comfortable or optimistic about opening businesses and as a result, these areas’ economies suffer.

Besides stalling economies, violent extremism also taxes health systems, displaces people from their homes, prevents children from attending schools and drains government resources that could be put toward development.

Less-developed countries are vulnerable to violent extremism, which can grow more easily in the absence of strong social, economic and political institutions. Stronger institutions can address grievances that may otherwise fuel violent extremism and radicalization. Certain facets of development, such as steady governance, enable countries to control outbreaks of violent extremism if necessary.

USAID’s Approach

In 2011, USAID issued The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency policy. Over half of U.S. foreign aid goes to countries in conflict or toward preventing conflict, leaving less than enough to put toward really helping people therefore undermining the other work USAID is doing.

USAID’s policy strives to stimulate growth and progress in developing countries as a method of fighting violent extremism. Through Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), USAID hopes to be able to devote more funds toward development rather than conflict in the future.

One of the overall program principles is to identify and address the drivers of violent extremism, such as exclusion and injustice. USAID partners with local and national governments in Africa, the Middle East and Asia — as well as NGOs — to specifically address such drivers before they can grow to become larger problems. The policy also targets specific populations, such as women and at-risk young men.

USAID’s policy and approach concentrates on:

  • Youth empowerment
  • Social and economic inclusion
  • Media
  • Reconciliation
  • Conflict mitigation
  • Improving local governance

USAID also strives to think locally and take a coordinated and integrated approach toward violent extremism and development. The program tailors its activities to meet the threat levels, political environments and material needs of each community it works with based on qualitative and quantitative data. For example, in Africa, USAID has “developed web-based training, built knowledge sharing platforms, and convened workshops to assure innovation and learning.”

In September 2014, President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly and said, “We will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship and civil society, education and youth — because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.” Thankfully, USAID is one of the many organizations working to advocate for and promote such change-making efforts.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

Iraq War Facts
The Iraq War began in 2003 under the Bush administration. A common misconception among the Iraq War facts is that the war was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks; however, there was no evidence of Iraq’s connection with the attack. The United States intended to abolish Saddam Hussein’s regime and confiscate any weapons of mass destruction.

The war went on for eight years until President Obama officially announced that he would be withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011. However, when ISIL began taking control of Iraqi land in 2014, U.S. military advisors returned to the country to combat the spread of the Islamic State. To understand the return and current presence of the United States in Iraq, it is important to know the following Iraq War facts.

Purpose

When the U.S. began the war with Iraq in 2003, the purpose was to take down Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi government; however, the United States’ current presence in Iraq is largely due to the permanent threat of terrorism in the Middle East caused by terrorist groups such as ISIL.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a terrorist organization that follows radical Sunni Islam. It first gained global attention in 2014 with its presence in Iraq and Syria but also spread around the world to countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

ISIL initiatives were largely funded by oil revenue made on the black market. The group took control of oil fields in both Syria and Iraq and would sell this oil to fund their activities. Since then, they have lost much of their control of these oil fields to the Iraqi army and their revenue has decreased.

Troops

Although troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2014, there are still over 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq due to the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East. Interestingly, though, it was found that these numbers were not exactly accurate. Pentagon officials acknowledged only over half of the troops are actually present in Iraq — one of the most shocking Iraq war facts as a report found that the actual amount was 8,892.

This number is more than 75 percent more than originally stated. While these figures could seem high, they are relatively small when compared to the number of troops present under the Bush administration. A decade ago, the combined troop total approached 200,000.

The War

Since their return in August 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 13,300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in the area. Through the years, these airstrikes have led to the Iraqi military regaining much of its land from ISIL. Iraq’s government announced the end of the war against the Islamic State in December 2017, over three years after they first began taking control of Iraqi land.

The Islamic State has now lost most of the territory they once took control of. In a statement, the military said it “fully liberated” all of Iraq’s territory and retook full control of the border. According to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, 98 percent of territory once claimed by the jihadist group has been reclaimed.

Moving Forward

Since the victory over the Islamic State, the U.S. has announced that it will reduce the number of troops in Iraq. That being said, the United States will not fully leave Iraq despite the fact that ISIL no longer controls Iraqi land.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a statement saying, “Despite these successes, our fight is not over. Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.” This belief is largely due to the terror that has been created through attacks around the world. Today, the goal is to fight the Islamic State from spreading its influence.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Facts about the Lake Chad Basin Crisis
The Lake Chad Basin crisis is a humanitarian emergency that is among the most severe in the world. This crisis began in 2009 with the violence caused in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamic jihadist group that was formed in 2002. Since then, the conflict has also spread to Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

This humanitarian disaster has caused hunger, malnutrition and displacement in the region. Additionally, violence continues and Boko Haram even aims to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid. Because the crisis is often overlooked, it is important to address the facts about the Lake Chad Basin crisis.

10 Facts About the Lake Chad Basin Crisis

  1. Although its mission now is to overthrow the Nigerian government, the Boko Haram group was originally created to resist western education and influence. The group is also against things like voting in elections, an education system without religion and dressing with shirts and pants because this reflects western influence.
  2. As of May 2016, around 20,000 people had been killed by the extremists. Additionally, as a result of the crisis, many children have been separated from their families and are often killed or recruited to join armed groups. Females are also subject to physical abuse, forced labor, rape, forced marriage and sexual assault.
  3. There are more than 17 million people living in the affected areas across the four Lake Chad Basin countries. Many who are living in these affected areas are solely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.
  4. The conflict has resulted in around 2.4 million people being displaced. More than half of those who were displaced were children. Of these children, 50 percent were under the age of five when displaced from their homes.
  5. There is an increased risk of disease in the area since malnutrition rates have reached critical levels. Those who are suffering from the conflict often depend on international aid for medical assistance. This can be extremely problematic due to Boko Haram’s efforts to stop foreign aid from reaching the area.
  6. There are 5.2 million people in need of food assistance as a result of the conflict. Approximately 745,000 suffer from acute malnourishment. Of these people, 490,000 are children.
  7. Currently, around four million people are food insecure in the affected regions. Unfortunately, it is predicted that this will increase to almost five million in the lean season between June and August.
  8. The severity of the conflict and its consequences continues to increase. Civilians are frequently still under attack by the Boko Haram group. The number of internally displaced people continues to substantially rise in the region, even though millions of people have already been displaced.
  9. The U.N. estimates that nearly 11 million people in the region require and depend on humanitarian assistance for survival. Approximately 7.7 million people requiring aid are located in the northeastern region of Nigeria in the three most affected states: Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
  10. Currently, it is estimated that around $1.58 billion will be required in aid to the region for 2018. Unfortunately, only $477 million, or approximately 30 percent of the goal, has been funded. It is important to encourage international assistance for this particular cause in order to ensure the survival of millions.

Many NGOs and foreign governments are working together to improve the living situation of those suffering from the Lake Chad Basin crisis. However, it is still important to urge senators and representatives to pass legislation that can assist in this humanitarian emergency that has left millions in need due to hunger, violence and displacement.

– Luz Solano-Flórez

Photo: Flickr

most dangerous countries in the worldAs of January 2018, the State Department currently categorizes 11 countries with a level 4 travel advisory. The advisory recommends that U.S. citizens refrain from traveling to that individual country due to dangerous conditions. Level 4 travel warnings are issued for various reasons, which include terrorism, armed conflict, health, civil unrest and crime. The seven most dangerous countries in the world detailed here all have high poverty rates due to the unsafe and unstable living conditions in the country.

The Most Dangerous Countries in the World

  1. Afghanistan
    In recent years, Afghanistan has experienced prolonged armed conflict between NATO forces and domestic terrorist groups such as the Taliban and ISIL. Al-Qaida and other foreign terrorist organizations have maintained a presence in the conflict as well. Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, continually faces the threat of terrorist attacks, which include suicide bombings, kidnappings and armed conflict. A portion of these attacks explicitly target government buildings, hotels, restaurants and other areas frequented by foreign visitors.
  2. Syria
    According to the State Department travel advisory for Syria, “No part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare and aerial bombardment have significantly raised the risk of death or serious injury.” As of February 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus has ceased all operations.

    Originally, the Syrian conflict began as an extension of the Arab Spring, which sought to remove Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s current president. Over the course of the last seven years, the nature of the conflict has changed with U.S., Turkish and Russian involvement. Armed conflict continues among multiple militia groups. As a result of the continued crisis, a large number of refugees have sought asylum in Europe, North America and other regions of the Middle East. It is unclear as to when a peace agreement can be reached between the current opposing forces.

  3. Yemen
    With the removal of President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi by Huthi forces in 2015, Yemen has suffered from continuous internal conflict between tribal groups and political parties. As a consequence, Yemen’s infrastructure of medical facilities, schools, housing, power and water utilities have been massively damaged.Between April and July 2017, more than 400,000 cases of cholera were reported. During that same period, close to 2,000 individuals died of cholera. In 2016, the U.N. attempted to reach a peace agreement for the cessation of hostilities, which ultimately failed.

    Sporadic fighting persists within Yemen, along with a domestic presence of terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

  4. Mali
    Violent crime and terrorism are prevalent issues in northern and central Mali. The State Department warns foreign visitors that both kidnapping and armed robbery are major concerns when traveling to the country. Hotels, nightclubs, places of worship and restaurants are frequent places for domestic terrorist attacks.It is advised to avoid traveling at night due to random police checkpoints and illegal roadblocks. Seasonal holidays have also seen increased violent activity.
  5. Somalia
    Somalia has seen great progress in recent years with the creation of a 275-member parliament and a presidential election in 2012. However, the continued presence of the terrorist group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate, presents dangerous conditions for Somali citizens and foreign visitors.

    On October 14, 2017, Somalia saw its deadliest attack ever recorded in its prolonged war against Islamic extremists. Two truck bombs were detonated in the capital city of Mogadishu, resulting in approximately 280 casualties and more than 300 wounded. Illegal roadblocks are common throughout the country, posing dangers to travelers. Also, the issue of piracy continues to threaten the security of those traveling by sea.

  6. Central African Republic
    In its report on the Central African Republic, the State Department warns visitors of crime and civil unrest. Currently, large areas of the country are under the control of armed groups, preventing safe travel. Notable violent crimes are listed, such as armed robbery, aggravated battery and homicide. The fragmented nature of the country is a result of a civil war launched in 2013 which ousted President Francois Bozize, who seized power through a military coup in 2003.

    As of 2016, the current president, Faustin-Archange Touadera, has sought to establish peace with the various rebel groups through a program which aims to reintegrate the armed groups into society.

  7. Iraq
    Upon the removal of Saddam Hussein by U.S.-led coalition forces, an Iraqi government was formally established. However, Iraq has continued to be a hotbed for armed conflict and terrorist activity, most notably the invasion of Mosul by the forces of ISIS and their eventual defeat in late 2017. Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, continues to be the target of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Due to the current security crisis throughout Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

    As the security situation remains largely unsolved, the State Department continues to list Iraq as a level 4 travel warning, urging potential visitors to avoid travel for the foreseeable future.

Primarily, the current security climate in these states is a direct result of various types of armed conflict. As a result of armed conflict, critical health issues have also arisen. However, this is cause for hope. Continued support from the world’s wealthiest nations in the form of development and aid can help bring armed conflict to an end. A different future is possible, one in which these war-torn nations will no longer be classified as the most dangerous countries in the world.

– Colby McCoy

Photo: Flickr

How The State Department is Curbing Violent Extremism
In August 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a chilling letter where he outlined the roots of violent extremism — “Far too many who join the ranks of violent extremist organizations do so because they have trouble finding meaning or opportunity in their daily lives, because they are deeply frustrated and alienated — and because they hope groups, like Boko Haram, will somehow give them a sense of identity, or purpose, or power.”

Extremist groups, however, exist beyond the continent of Africa; it is a problem that concerns the international community as a whole.

The Department of State created the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which classifies extremist groups in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The FTO serves as the beginning U.S. effort to counter violent extremism.

Traditional measures to prevent the spread of violent extremism include the use of American, regional and global military force. Past strategies, however, do not address the systemic causes of extremism — poverty-stricken communities cannot provide basic necessities for its citizens.

Recently, the U.S. recognized the limitations of a force-only approach. Consequently, The White House hosted a summit on countering violent extremists, which collaborated with international organizations and civil society across the world to cultivate a new strategy.

In late May, the Department of State and the United States Agency for Development unveiled the first ever joint strategy to counter violent extremism.

The innovative diplomatic approach calls for a new application of American resources to counter violent extremism. Specifically, strengthening the capabilities of governments; increasing developmental assistance; furthering research on the origins of current extremist movements; and empowering local anti-extremist advocates.

Furthermore, Secretary Kerry expanded on the joint strategy in his article addressing the importance of community-building and countering violent extremism.

The August 2016 article notes the consequences of corruptions, as a primary contributor to violent extremism. Secretary Kerry made an impassioned plea for global leaders to use the 2 million dollars of annual money lost to corruption towards addressing basic human needs.

Providing a compelling alternative to curbing violent extremism and increasing the quality of life in vulnerable communities requires serious dedication among the international community. Americans can no longer consider the humanitarian travesty of the developing world as a far-way problem that does not concern them, because as recent events have demonstrated, failing to counter violent extremism has reached American shores.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr