A Year in War: Revisiting the conflict and security-related events of 2014…

  • Three months of anti-government protests and violent clashes in Ukraine, which started in late 2013 and culminated at the end of February, toppled the pro-Russian presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. In the following months, pro-Russian Ukrainians staged escalating protests and revolts of their own.
  • In March, Russia brazenly annexed Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine, in what was just the beginning of a long and bloody standoff. A month later, pro-Russian separatists declared themselves Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, and have since regularly battled government forces with help from Russia. A Ukrainian ceasefire this fall collapsed — if, as Julia Ioffe points out, you could ever say it had actually existed. The war’s overall death toll is nearing 5,000 and more than a quarter of those fatalities have occurred since the declared cease-fire. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine have ramped up fears and strained diplomacy in Europe and the former Soviet bloc. Worries have intensified not only in countries like Georgia and Moldova, but in Sweden, where the armed forces found hard evidence their waters were breached by a foreign submarine, likely Russian, in October.
  • In mid-July, after a few months of fighting and shooting down Ukrainian aircraft, separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all on board. The crash site and investigation became entangled in hostilities
  • Despite some of its boldness, Russia’s economy is seriously suffering, largely as a result of dropping oil prices, but it’s also bending under the weight of sanctions, inflation and a compromised pension system.
  • This year, Chechnya marked two anniversaries — the ten years since the awful Beslan school siege and the two decades since the beginning of the first Chechen war. This winter also saw some fresh violence – a gun battle between Islamist militants and government forces in Grozny this December left 20 dead and since then human rights workers who raised concerns about government actions have been seriously threatened and harassed.
  • The Georgian government wants to prosecute former president Mikhail Saakashvili, who currently calls Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg neighborhood home, for human rights violations.
  • In other long-running conflict news, more than a dozen were killed this summer in fighting over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. This was the worst such fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia since 1994. Azerbaijan also shot down an Armenian helicopter in November.
  • Lebanon struggled with spillover from the Syrian conflict, particularly with handling the volume of refugees – turning some away. Meanwhile, more than a billion dollars of Iraq reconstruction money wound up in a Lebanese bunker.
  • In January, an international tribunal opened hearings in the Netherlands regarding the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
  • A Jordanian court cleared radical cleric Abu Qatada, extradited last year from the UK, of all charges related to the Millennium Plot and released him from prison.
  • This summer, Israel and Gaza engaged in a costly 50 day war in which nearly 2200 Gazans died, more than 1500 of them civilians and 500 of them children. From the 8th of July to the 26th of August, Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge, a war begun after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers. Over the course of their onslaught against the densely inhabited strip of land, 18,000 houses were destroyed and many tens of thousands were damaged. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 Israeli civilians, one of them a child, died in the fighting and return fire. Palestinian author Atef Abu Saif wrote a haunting war diary of eight days under fire in the Gaza Strip. The wholesale destruction is painfully evident in the photographs from Gaza during that period.
  • Human Rights Watch investigated three attacks carried out by Israel against schools in Gaza, concluding that Israel had attacked well-marked schools where civilians were sheltering, in violation of the laws of war. Amnesty International also found evidence of Israeli violations, like failure to provide civilians with prior warnings, and describes the civilian costs as disproportionate to any successful targeting of militants. The United Nations began an inquiry this month into Israeli shelling of UN facilities and into the storage of rockets at vacated UN buildings, an inquiry with which Israel and Hamas have both promised to cooperate. Israel is refusing to cooperate with another inquiry, this one by the UN Human Rights Council into possible war crimes. At the very end of the conflict, Hamas executed dozens of unnamed Gazans for crimes of collaboration.
  • This week Palestinians submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council which demands the withdrawal of Israeli troops by 2017. It isn’t remotely likely to pass, but it does complicate the international politics of supporting Israeli positions.
  • Israel’s expansive settlement plans in Jerusalem this year have also drawn condemnation internationally.
  • In early December, Israel’s Knesset voted to dissolve its parliament and hold early elections.
  • Luke Somers, an American photojournalist, and Pierre Korkie, a South African aid worker, both died during a failed special ops rescue attempt. They had been held by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and were killed by their captors during the mission. BuzzFeed’s Gregory Johnsen wrote about his own close call reporting in Yemen.
  • Houthi rebels in Yemen overtook the capital in September, forcing the government to step down. The rebels, a Shiite force, are allied with those loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against the current president. Their seizureof the capital met with Sunni attacks and car bombings. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has declared war on the Houthi and expanded its own operations against the military. The Houthi are also friendly with Iran, and Saudi Arabia has signaled its displeasure by pulling most of its financial aid to Yemen. The parliament approved a new government in mid-December. The US hassanctioned Saleh and rebel leaders for threatening peace and stability in Yemen.
  • The Syrian death toll is believed by some groups to have passed 200,000 in a war that has raged for more than three years.
  • The US launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and plans to begin training moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State. Here’s the text of the authorization for use of military force against IS – passed in December. Iran also launched air strikes against the Islamic State in the past month. In Syria, the Islamic State has engaged in tense rivalry with Al Nusra Front, also subject to American strikes
  • The Islamic State has really defined war in 2014, at least for the West and the Middle East — and has been the subject of a great deal of fantastic reporting and academic analysis. Martin Chulov at the Guardian reported on the group’s origins in Camp Bucca in Iraq. Charles Lister extensively profiled the group for Brookings. Journalists at Spiegel examined why the group had such success at drawing young, disaffected Europeans to their cause. Zeit extensively researchedthe economic reality of the caliphate, which the group declared in June.
  • Beginning in August, the Islamic State began beheading American and British journalists and humanitarian aid workers in a series of propaganda snuff films released on YouTube, for the most part every fortnight. Rukmini Callimachi’sreporting chronicles the experiences of the group’s captive Westerners. The murdered hostages, whose deaths have sparked an intense debate over the zero concessions policies about hostage negotiations, are James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Hawthorne Caines, Alan Henning and Abdulrahman (formerly Peter) Kassig. An unnamed 26-year-old American aid worker remains the only known American hostage in ISIS hands. Another hostage, Briton John Cantlie, hasperiodically appeared in propaganda films, forced to play correspondent for the group’s YouTube news clips.
  • Theo Padnos, a prisoner of the Al Nusra Front, was released this summer.
  • The Islamic State hasn’t simply terrorized Western hostages, but has been battling Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria and slaughtered its way through its new territorial holdings this year.
  • Following the revelation that the Iraqi army had more than 50,000 “ghost” soldiers on its payroll, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi fired a number of senior officials as a consequence. Al-Abadi took office this after his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki stepped down this summer.
  • A New York Times investigation uncovered the impacts of remnant chemical weapons stores on US troops deployed to Iraq.
  • Iran and the P5+1 made headway on nuclear negotiations, but failed to come to an agreement by the late November deadline. Talks have been given a seven month extension.
  • Iran jailed four US-Iranian journalists in July — including Washington Postreporter Jason Rezaian, who remains in custody, ambiguously charged.
  • In mid-April, the Boko Haram terror group kidnapped more than 200 school-age girls in the Nigerian town of Chibok — while a few dozen escaped, and hopes of mass release were briefly elevated in October, it is really no longer actually possible for them to be freed as a group. Boko Haram, meanwhile, a group founded in 2009, killed 2000 people in the first half of 2014 alone. This summer and fall, they began attacking sizable towns and cities in their stronghold in the northeast, where the violence of their campaign has displaced 1.6 million people.
  • Conflict has been ongoing in the Central African Republic since Seleka rebels seized the capital city of Bangui in March of 2013. In 2014, the conflict is a sectarian one in which the Muslim Seleka first targeted the majority Christian population. Following the ousting of Seleka this year, Christian militias have in turn slaughtered Muslim citizens by the thousands. As many as 10,000 children are now fighting in the conflict in the Central African Republic, in a range from either double or quadruple the number of child soldiers involved a year ago. In the British edition of GQ, Ed Caesar wrote on this under-covered and brutal tit-for-tat ethnic cleansing in the aptly titled and gorgeously narrated “Hell is Other People.” In another piece, Graeme Wood writes that the country’s capital, Bangui, is a “city of overlapping vendettas.” And finally, Foreign Affairs asks, why has the Central African Republic had so many peacekeeping forces and operations, but no peace?
  • War in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been ongoing since 1998. In that time, more than 5 million people have died from the violence, starvation and disease that have accompanied the war between the government and rebels. The war, triggered by the aftershocks of nearby Rwanda’s genocide, is one of the world’s bloodiest wars, the UN’s costliest peacekeeping operation ever, and one of the most ignored conflicts.
  • Egypt’s former army chief, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, took office for a four year term as president in June.  He brought with him harsh repression tactics that rival those of the ousted dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, who was this year cleared of charges related to the deaths of protesters in 2011 and corruption. Also in June, Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, all Al Jazeera journalists, were sentenced to 7 to 10 years in prison on charges that include spreading lies to aid the Muslim Brotherhood. This November, Sisi signaled some hope for a pardon.
  • Libya, caught in a downward spiral of competing militant groups, is increasingly home to organizations supportive of the Islamic State. IS has reportedly set up training camps in the eastern part of the country. The city of Derna is controlledby the IS-allied Shura Council for the Youth of Islam in Derna as well as hundreds of fighters who have returned home to Libya after fighting in the Islamic State’s al-Battar Brigade in Deir Ezzor and Mosul. Spiegel reports on the expanding influence of IS – especially in North Africa, as a variety of militant groups seek to capitalize on their successes.
  • A group of IS-aligned Algerian militants, the Caliphate Soldiers, beheaded a French hostage, a mountain guide named Hervé Gourdel. The group’s leader, Abdelmalik Gouri, has reportedly been killed by Algerian special forces.
  • French citizen Serge Lazarevic was freed in Mali.
  • Multiple rounds of peace talks between the Malian government and Tuareg rebel groups ended in late November without agreement.
  • The deaths of nine UN peacekeepers in Mali, there to aid in stopping the aggressions of Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, led to calls for a more “robust” action.
  • This past month, the Sudanese government failed to reach an agreement in talks with the rebels whom it has spent the past three years battling in the provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
  • The UN is cutting its peacekeeping forces back in Darfur, although fighting has ramped up, and the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has withdrawn the genocide case against President Omar Bashir because there has been no effort to arrest him.
  • In South Sudan, tens of thousands have died after a year of conflict and 1.9 million have been displaced. The fighting, which broke out in December of 2013, is result of an armed rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his former VP Riek Machar. The UN has extended its mission there until at least May. Human Rights Watch said this summer that atrocities committed this year range from looting and pillaging to gang rape and civilian murder — the scale and depravity of which amount to war crimes.
  • Fighting on the border between Sudan and South Sudan threatens to merge the wars of both countries.
  • On December 6th, the International Criminal Court withdrew charges of crimes against humanity against sitting Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.
  • There are growing concerns about terrorism in Kenya, which marked the one year anniversary of the Westgate mall attack this September. Al-Shabab has recently launched a number of deadly cross-border attacks from neighboring Somalia.This month Kenya passed a controversial counterterrorism bill, backed by Kenyatta, which makes allowances for detentions without charge and for the domestic intelligence agency to conduct covert operations.
  • In Somalia, peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi used their hospital connections to find, exploit and assault women and girls.
  • Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja was sentenced in absentia to a year of jail time for allegedly assaulting two police officers in the country’s airport, where she was detained upon returning home from Europe.
  • This year’s election in Afghanistan turned into a contentious and costly runoffbetween Ashraf Ghani, a technocrat with a warlord for a running mate, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former adviser to Ahmad Shah Massoud. Ghani was the ultimate victor in an election confirmed to have been full of fraud, but Abdullah is now the country’s Chief Executive Officer. And the US finally got its Bilateral Security Agreement.
  • The US, which will leave behind more troops in Afghanistan in 2015 than previously planned, formally closed its combat command in December, paving the way for the support and training role that begins on January 1st. Along with this, the US closed the Bagram prison, saying it has no more prisoners in Afghanistan.
  • A case against the US over tortures and detentions in Afghanistan is creeping forward in the ICC.
  • This year was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the beginning of the war. The number of civilian casualties will likely pass 10,000 by the end of the year — a first since the UN began tallying civilian losses in 2008.
  • In November, President Obama authorized a broader combat mission in Afghanistan than previously intended – moving to allow US troops a direct combat role for at least another year. Closely following that, Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, announced a resumption of the night raids banned by his predecessor. Under the retooled mission announced by the administration, US forces would likely provide support for Afghan forces in these raids.
  • A Taliban offensive in the southern Sangin district this summer was some of theworst fighting there in years. The group has also increased its attacks on Kabul as the Afghanistan combat mission ends for the US and NATO.
  • In mid-June, Pakistan launched an offensive against militants in the northwest regions of the country, causing hundreds of thousands to flee the uptick in violence in North Waziristan.
  • Pakistan’s battles this year with the threat of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP), culminated terribly with a December TTP assault on an army public school in Peshawar. 141 people died — 132 of whom were school age children. Amid questions of what this will mean for Pakistan’s security and policy in future, the country has already ended its moratorium on the death penalty for terror offenses and has ramped up operations against the TTP in the northwest.
  • Pakistan’s opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri led weeks of protest against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, demonstrations which stoked fears of a “soft coup.”
  • India and Pakistan have experienced some of the worst escalations of cross-border violence and hostility at Kashmir since a 2003 ceasefire.
  • War in Syria and Taliban targeting of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan havedropped the vaccination rates for the disease, giving it an unwelcome upsurge. Some of the difficulty vaccinating in Pakistan is also a result of fallout from the CIA’s fake vaccination program to gather intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
  • India is sending 5000 more paramilitary troops to the northeastern state of Assam, where separatist attacks from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland killed 70 people earlier this week.
  • On May 22nd, not too long after a Thai court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power, the military staged a coup. It took control following a violent and contentious period in Thailand, beginning in late 2013 when protestsagainst Shinawatra’s government rocked the country. Since the coup, the military has engaged in crackdowns on activism, protest and dissent – jailing journalists, professors and student activists (who have been using the three-fingered Hunger Games salute).
  • Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong which arose this fall were dealt with harshly and violently. The Occupy encampments demonstrating against the anti-democratic rules of the Chinese-imposed electoral system were cleared by police with tear gas and batons, but have not been fully vanquished.
  • The government of the Philippines signed a peace accord in March with the Moro National Liberation Front, ending forty years of war and seventeen years of negotiations. The fighting killed at least 120,000 people on the island of Mindanao over the course of the conflict.
  • This December, a Swiss hostage escaped another group, Abu Sayyaf, also engaged in a long-term battle with the Filipino government. Abu Sayyaf released another hostage on Christmas Eve.
  • A UN human rights envoy called attention in April to the ongoing persecution by the Burmese government of the Rohingya population, tens of thousands of whom are starving in disease-ridden refugee camps. Just weeks before, aid workers had been forced to evacuate after coming under attack from Buddhists but had been barred from returning by the government.
  • This fall, China put prominent journalist Gao Yu on trial, charged with leaking state secrets.
  • In Xinjiang province, China has been pursuing a harsh crackdown on Uighur terror cells, claiming to have so far eliminated 115 cells. This crackdown on terror is accompanied by repression and harassment of the ethnic Muslim Uighur population.
  • North Korea released three American prisoners this fall. The country is alsoapparently behind the large hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment that targeted the release of The Interview, a comedy about taking down Kim Jong-Un. The hack included threats of violence and temporarily scuttled the movie’s release. North Korea denies involvement despite accusations. While the government and most reporting generally pins this on North Korea, the jury really is still out, as Kim Zetter reports.
  • In a rather stunning turn of events, the FARC rebels in Colombia declared a unilateral, indefinite ceasefire beginning December 20th. The treaty, intended to turn into an armistice, has however been snubbed by the government.
  • Following an entreaty from Pope Francis, secret negotiations and a prisoner trade, the US and Cuba resumed full diplomatic relations this month.
  • Beginning early February, protests erupted in Venezuela over a range of issues, from inflation to political oppression. Dozens died in clashes and the government enacted violent repressions, including thousands of detentions after which some have reported torture.
  • Two lone wolf terror attacks occurred in short order in Canada this fall. On October 20th in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, a radicalized Canadian man ran down and killed two soldiers. A few days later, a lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before moving on Parliament, where he was killed by the sergeant-at-arms.
  • Australia foiled an Islamic State-inspired beheading plot and passed strict new anti-terror legislation. In Sydney just this month, a man named Man Haron Monis held a cafe’s staff and customers hostage for 16 hours, killing two before he himself was killed.
  • The Irish Republican Army’s 1972 killing of Jean McConville, taken from her home in West Belfast reappeared in the news as the continuing police investigation led to the arrest of Sinn Fein politician and former IRA commander Gerry Adams. He was released after interrogation in April. The police have alsoarrested and released Bobby Storey, also a senior-level IRA commander. Two more men were arrested in connection with the case just this Monday.
  • 30 former members of the IRA are also under investigation for child sexual abuse.
  • Amnesty International is calling for an inquiry into the torture of 14 Northern Irish men detained without trial by the British Army in 1971. Northern Ireland’s attorney general has also ordered new inquests into the Troubles shooting deaths of two Belfast civilians by the army’s Military Reaction Force.
  • The release of the Senate Select Committee’s torture report (or, really just the executive summary) offered the brutal details of the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program — with nauseating chronicles of sleep deprivation, sexual assault and waterboarding paired with damning depictions of CIA mismanagement and misinformation campaigns. Earlier this year, the CIA copped to tapping the computers of Senate staffers in the middle of reviewing the agency’s documents on the detention program.The debate over making the executive summary public came with a lot of decisions to make about what information would be redacted and scrubbed from the document, like the names of the other countries involved in renditions and black site prisons. Melville House is releasing the report as a book.
  • There are also remain potentially thousands of unreleased photographs related to the torture of detainees held by the US.
  • 23 prisoners were transferred from Guantánamo in 2014, and there are promises of more to come.
  • December: 4 Afghans returned to Afghanistan; 6 detainees accepted by Uruguay
  • November: 1 Saudi returned home, 5 transferred to Eastern Europe, 1 Kuwaiti man released
  • May: 5 Taliban detainees swapped for Bowe Bergdahl, a controversial trade.
  • Cliff Sloan, the State Department envoy responsible for negotiating the release of detainees, is resigning.
  • There was turnover in the Pentagon: Chuck Hagel was unceremoniously oustedfrom his position as defense chief and will be replaced by Ashton Carter.
  • Here’s the text of this year’s US defense authorization bill.
  • American post-9/11 military costs have amounted to $1.6 trillion according to the Congressional Research Service.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs faced scandal, Congressional overhaul and the resignation of secretary Eric Shinseki after it was revealed that its hospital system covered up evidence of extensive waits for care in which some veteransdied before they could get treatment.
  • A House investigation into the politically infamous events of Benghazi in 2013 turned up no evidence of administration wrongdoing.
  • Although it isn’t the only interview out there now with Edward Snowden, NBC’sinterview with him in May sparked debate over the steps Snowden took within the NSA before he decided to leak information on secret programs.
  • A jury convicted a Blackwater guard of first-degree murder and three others of manslaughter in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
  • Data released by Reprieve calculates that for the 41 men targeted by drone strikes, 1,147 people had been killed. Steve Coll wrote about the drone war in Pakistan and its centrality to the Obama administration’s war on terror for The New Yorker.
  • And finally, 2014 was the centennial anniversary of World War I.tumblr_nh6q998am31qchhhqo1_1280Photograph above: a man looks out over destruction in the Al Shaaf neighborhood of Gaza City, August 11th. Credit to Alessio Romenzi for TIME.

Some extras, a handful of really great war-related reads published this year not included above:

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