New data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Uppsala University, shows that the number of fatalities in organised violence continues to decrease. The declared defeat of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has pushed the number of fatalities to its lowest level since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt
In total, the UCDP recorded just under 75,600 fatalities in organised violence in 2019. However, peace researchers are worried about recent trends in Africa.
“We can see that IS continues to dominate the trend,” says Therese Pettersson, project manager at the UCDP. “The de-escalation in Syria is counterbalanced by increased violence in Africa, as IS and other transnational jihadist groups have relocated their efforts there,” Pettersson clarifies.
This pattern is also reflected in the regional shift of US anti-IS operations, from the Middle East to Africa. The USA was the country involved in the largest number of conflicts as a secondary warring party – 10 in 2019 – despite the US announcement in late 2018 that it would be withdrawing troops from several countries.
IS declared a new province
In 2019, IS declared a new province – Central Africa – in its self-proclaimed caliphate, the first since 2017. The group carried out attacks in countries including Mozambique and DR Congo, which until recently have had limited IS presence.
“In addition to IS, al-Qaida groups have also intensified attacks on the African continent. We see increasing levels of violence targeting civilians in countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali,” Pettersson explains.
Transnational jihadist groups, such as IS and al-Qaida, have had a major impact on trends in all categories of violence in the past ten years.
“In a longer historical perspective, however, it is not their capacity for violence that sets them apart,” emphasises Magnus Öberg, UCDP Director. “What does set IS and al-Qaida apart is their transnational presence, and their ability to recruit fighters and followers globally.”
The bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 1989
Both IS and al-Qaida are involved in the most conflict-affected country in the world right now, Afghanistan. For the second consecutive year, Afghanistan recorded the highest numbers of battle-related deaths, and 2019 was the bloodiest year in the country since the end of the Soviet intervention in 1989.
“Since 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in fatalities, which in 2019 made up 40 percent of all deaths from organised violence in the world,” says Pettersson.
Pettersson, Therese & Magnus Öberg (2020) Organized violence, 1989-2019. Journal of Peace Research 57(4).