AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria Terrorism, Central African Republic, Elections

 FLASH POINTS

Nigeria-Terrorism

Nigeria map (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World factbook)

Scores of teen-age girls have been kidnapped from their secondary school in Northeast Nigeria late Monday (April 14) by armed men believed to be members of the radical Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

The raid comes just a day after a deadly bus station bombing in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, prompting critics to question the government’s claims of progress in its campaign to suppress the militant group. Hundreds have died this year in attacks attributed to Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is forbidden (sinful),” in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.

There are conflicting reports about the number of girls taken and how many escaped their captors. The BBC quoted the Nigerian military as saying all but eight of 129 kidnapped girls have escaped. “But the BBC’s Will Ross in Abuja says there is no independent confirmation of this,” BBC added. Reuters reported between 50 and 100 girls were taken and at least 14 had managed to escape, according to officials.

The Associated Press reported that “about 100 girls” between the ages of 16 and 18 were kidnapped and some of the girls escaped by jumping off a slow-moving truck in the kidnappers’ retreating convoy. Citing a security source, AFP said it was told more than 100 girls remained in captivity.

The gunmen killed a soldier and police officer guarding the girls’ school at Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno state – one of three under an 11-month state of emergency. All schools in Borno state were closed three weeks ago because Boko Haram has been targeting schools and killing or driving off students. The girls’ school was reopened, however, so they could take their final exams, a local government official told reporters.

The girls were believed to have been taken to the rugged Sambisa Forrest near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, where Boko Haram is reported to have bases. The Islamic extremists have kidnapped girls in the past to serve as cooks and sex slaves.

On Sunday, 75 people were killed and more than 140 wounded in the bombing of a bus station in Abuja just a few miles from the capital’s government buildings. That attack raised concerns that militants’ attacks were no longer confined to the strife-torn northeast, where traditional rivalries between mostly Christian farmers and mainly Muslim herders over land and water rights have morphed into increasingly violent attacks.

No group has claimed responsibility for either the bus station bombing or the mass abduction but President Goodluck Jonathan and other leaders blame Boko Haram, which launched a violent insurgency in 2009 to make the country’s predominantly Muslim north into an Islamic state governed by conservative sharia law. Since 2010, the violence has claimed an estimated 3,600 people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and biggest oil producer.

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Central African Republic

Troops from France and Cameroon on patrol in the Central African Republic, (Photo by EMA; Copyright: Ministère de la Défense)

Troops from France and Cameroon on patrol in the Central African Republic.
(Photo by EMA; Copyright: Ministère de la Défense)

Fifteen United Nations and private humanitarian agencies are appealing for $274 million to fund emergency aid for people fleeing violence in the Central African Republic, the Voice of America reports. Nearly 200,000 people have fled the C.A.R. since December, but the U.N. expects that number to grow to more than 360,000 by the end of the year.

The crisis stems from months of sectarian violence in one of Africa’s poorest nations. The mayhem began when Muslim-led Seleka rebels seized power a year ago and overthrew the government of longtime President Francois Bozize. In a backlash, predominantly Christian anti-balaka militia members targeted Muslim civilians for revenge and attacked positions held by the rebels.

The U.N. Security Council voted last week (April 10) to send 12,000 troops to quel violence and restore order in the C.A.R. U.N. peacekeepers will relieve about 6,500 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French troops who have struggled to keep the peace in the former French colony.

In Geneva, U.N. officials said the $274 million would be used to meet the needs of refugees from the C.A.R., who have escaped to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Officials in the DRC, where thousands of refugees have fled,  are worried the conflict could threaten the security of the entire region.

Lambert Mende, the DRC’s information minister, says his government is concerned because it shares a 1,600-kilometerf border with the C.A.R. “So whatever can happen there, can impact our security,” he told the Voice of America. He added that the DRC was “very eager” to   contribute to the stabilization effort. The DRC has sent a battalion of soldiers and a unit of plainclothes policemen to the C.A.R, according to Mende.

Central African Republic (CIA World Factbook)

Central African Republic
(CIA World Factbook)

 Chad has withdrawn all of its 850 soldiers in the AU peacekeeping contingent following accusations that Chadian troops aided Muslim rebels in the C.A.R. – which Chad’s government denied, the BBC and AFP reported.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno ordered the pullout after a U.N. investigation found that Chadian troops “opened fire on the population without any provocation” in the capital, Bangui, on March 29. Thirty people were killed and another 300 were injured, according to the U.N. Chad’s foreign ministry dismissed the findings as “malicious,” adding that Chad was being unfairly blamed for the C.A.R.’s woes.

*** *** ***

ELECTIONS

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

President Blaise Compaore has been run Burkina Faso since 1987, but a provision of the West African nation’s constitution bars him from running again when his term expires in 2015.

But 50,000 people turned out for a rally calling for the constitution to be amended so Compaore can seek another term, according to an Associated Press report via Al Jazeera.

The rally Saturday (April 12) follows a series of defections of high-level officials in Compaore’s ruling party over concerns that the president would indeed try to change the constitution so he could seek anothjer term.

Algeria

ALGERIA

ALGERIA

Algerians go to the polls Thursday for a presidential election that incumbent President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika is widely expected to win, the Voice of America reports. Bouteflika, 77, is seeking his fourth term in office, although he has made few public appearances since suffering a stroke last year.

He faces five opposition challengers, but Bouteflika continues to have the backing of the ruling National Liberation Front party. In February, three Algerian opposition parties called for a boycott of the elections after the government announced Bouteflika would seek another five-year term.

Unemployment is now high in Algeria, especially among youth. And despite the North African country’s vast oil and gas resources, much of the population remains poor.

 

 

 

 

 

April 16, 2014 at 11:59 pm 1 comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: The Rise of Hezbollah in Syria

New Study.

WASHINGTON – Back in February, 4GWAR attended the first major address by new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. At that time, Johnson said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has become “very focused” on Syria and the foreign jihadists streaming into the war-torn country to aid the rebels battling the regime of President Bashir al-Assad.

Map of Syria (Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War)

Map of Syria
(Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War)

Johnson said DHS was concerned about what those fighters will do when they return to their home countries across the Middle East, Africa – and North America, indoctrinated in a violent Islamic mission.

On Friday (April 11) we heard about another threat emanating from Syria – the rise of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia as a military force in Syria.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, issued a report last week on Hezbollah in Syria. Among the findings: that Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia which has been battling Israel and the West for decades, has become a major player in the Syrian conflict.

Hezbollah has been designated as a Global Terrorist organization by the United States since 1995 for a long history of terrorist attacks against American citizens and officials – including the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon during the 1980s.

According to the ISW report, Hezbollah has moved beyond its role as an adviser and trainer of Syrian troops and taken over a direct combat role against the mostly Sunni rebels battling Assad’s forces.

Iran and Syria have been important supporters of Hezbollah and the Syrian conflict threatened to disrupt that so-called Axis of Resistance. Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict has shored-up Syria’s lagging army, protected the hub of Iran’s power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean and given Hezbollah, as a fighting force, experience in urban warfare. But it has come at a cost – hundreds of causalities  — over the past year.

One key take-away, says Marissa Sullivan, an ISW research fellow and the report’s author, is that Hezbollah, the Syrian military, Iranian and Iraqi Shi’ite fighters have evolved into “a very well-integrated fighting force” that can coordinate, plan and deploy efficiently. “This is a huge innovation that has come out of the conflict in Syria,” she told a briefing on the report last week.

Before al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the United States in 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other terrorist group, U.S. Treasury Department officials told a 2012 press briefing.

Hezbollah started carrying out bombings and kidnappings in Lebanon but quickly expanded its violent campaign to a global stage, carrying out and supporting terrorist attacks in South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and various countries in the Middle East.

 

 

April 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (April 13-April 19, 1814)

O Grab Me.

Courtesy New Zealand maritime Museum

Courtesy New Zealand maritime Museum

With the collapse of Napoleon’s Empire in late March, U.S. President James Madison calls for immediate repeal of a maritime trade embargo passed by Congress in December 1813.

The Embargo of 1813 is the latest in a series of attempts by Madison and his predecessor Thomas Jefferson to hurt Britain economically by denying British merchants and consumers American goods and raw materials.

There is another reason for this legislation: smuggling in Maine, Georgia, Vermont and New York – Americans doing business with the enemy despite the war and the widening naval blockade of U.S. seaports. The illegal trade “has reached such proportions” that Congress passes a far reaching embargo, according to George C. Daughan’s War of 1812, The Navy’s War.

To halt the smuggling and hurt British commerce, the new law bans every type of shipping including coastal shipping and fishing outside U.S. harbors Even inland waterways come under the shipping ban.

But like Jefferson’s attempt to slap Britain without starting a shooting war – the Embargo of 1807 – the 1813 law does more harm than good. Back in 1807, wags scrambled the letters of embargo to spell “O Grab Me” or “Mob Rage.” In 1813, American ships once again are barred from leaving American ports to trade overseas. As an example of the economic woes the 1813 Embargo imposed, Daughan notes that in 1806, nearly $16 billion in shipping business was conducted just in New York City. During 1813, that amount dwindled to $60,000.

President James Madison

President James Madison

And the 1813 embargo didn’t stop New York and Vermont farmers from selling fresh produce and meat to the British in Canada. Meanwhile, seaportsin the South were conducting the same type of trade with the very British ships blockading most U.S. Atlantic ports.

The embargo infuriates New England where the economy is dependent on maritime commerce and the British are not even blockading their ports yet. That omission was deliberate on the part of the Royal Navy, which sought to drive a wedge between Madison and the opposition Federalist Party, which was strongest throughout New England.

With Napoleon out of power, there’s no leverage against the British, so Madison calls on Congress to repeal the embargo and signs the legislation on April 14.

 

 

 

April 14, 2014 at 1:08 am 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 11, 2014)

Mongolian Salute

Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been on a whirlwind trip across Asia recently, stopping in Beijing, Tokyo and Ulaanbaatar (that’s the capital of Mongolia).

Hagel, a former Army infantryman, reviewed an honor guard — as is customary for visiting dignitaries. He then stood and watched the honor guard present arms and then yell — which apparently is also customary in Mongolia.

We’ve seen some unusual dress uniforms in Defense Department photos over the last few years, but these Mongolian soldiers may take the cake. Note the spiffy spiked helmet and pointy-toed boots. But check out the stocks on some of those rifles!

Apparently another Mongolian custom is to give visiting distinguished guests a horse as a present. To see the cute pony Hagel got — and what he named it, click here.

 

April 11, 2014 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Central African Republic, Cameroon-Polio, Ebola in West Africa

 U.N. Troops to C.A.R.

French and African troops patrol the Muslim Quarter of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. (Photo by EMA. Copyright Ministère de la Défense)

French and African troops patrol the Muslim Quarter of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
(Photo by EMA. Copyright Ministère de la Défense)

The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday (April 10) to send 12,000 troops to quel violence and resore order in the strife-torn Central African Republic (C.A.R.).

Thousands have been killed and more than a million people are in need of aid following an explosion of sectarian violence after Muslim-led , Seleka rebels seized power a year ago and overthrew the government of President Francois Bozize – who had been in power for a decade. In a backlash, predominantly Christian anti-balaka militia members targeted Muslim civilians for revenge and attacked positions held by the mainly Muslim rebels.

U.N. Chief Ban Ki-Moon has warned of “ethno-religious cleansing” in C.A.R., with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence going unpublished, the BBC reportedThe C.A.R. Is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but most people remain poor after decades of unrest and government mismanagement.

Central African Republic (CIA World Factbook)

Central African Republic
(CIA World Factbook)

The U.N. Force will take over on September 15 from the 6,000-strong African-led peacekeeping mission. The Africans and about 2,000 French troops have been hard-pressed to halt the killing in the former French colony, according to the Voice of America.

The African troops will continue their military activities in the lead-up to the official transfer date in September. After being vetted, VOA reported, many of those troops will also be kep on as blue-helmeted U.N. Peacekeepers and join the new U.N. Mission, which will go by the acronym, MINUSCA.

*** *** ***

Cameroon-Polio

The government of the West African nation of Cameroon has announced it will mount a special polio Vaccin campaign for all children after haf a dozen cases were identified. There are fears that children fleeing dangerous situations – such as terrorist violence in Nigeria – are spreading the disease, according to the Voice of America website.

Cameroon and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Cameroon and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

 Nigeria is one of a few nations around the world which have not eradicated polio.

Cameroon’s Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda said officials in his country thought they could declare the Cameroon polio free, but they detected four cases of the wild polio virus in the western part of the country. Three other cases were also identifed – indicating virus is spreading.

Some of the cases were reported in children fleeing northeast Nigeria – where Boko Haram Islamic militants have been committing random acts of violence.

*** *** ***

West Africa-Ebola

Meanwhile at least three West African countries are reporting cases of the deadly ebola virus.

Guinea has reported 157 ebola cases, with 101 leading to death. Almost half of the 21 cases reported in Liberia have proven fatal. In Mali, nine suspected cases have been reported. Both Liberia and Mali share a border with Guinea.

Guinea and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Guinea and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

A World health Organization official said the U.N. Agency expects ebola will engage its staff for months, according to the euronews website.“”This is one of the most challenging outbreaks that we have ever faced,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the WHO. And that’s because “we see a wide geographic dispersion of cases. So this has come in from a number of districts as well as a large city in Guinea, Conakry,” the capital, Fukuda added.

 

 

April 10, 2014 at 11:58 pm 1 comment

WEAPONS AND TECHNOLOGY: Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo

Anchors Await

4GWAR photo

4GWAR photo

Your 4GWAR editor is over at National Harbor, Maryland outside Washington, D.C. this week at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. We’re working for Seapower magazine this week, which has the daunting task of trying to cover every speech, panel discussion, corporate and service briefing for its daily show paper. You can see what we’ve been up to (unmanned aircraft today, missiles and rockets tomorrow) by clicking here  or going to the Seapower website.

It’s a huge industry show with big name defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Atomics showing their offerings for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

And then there are presentations by several government entities like Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Office of Naval Research, the Marine Corps Systems Command, Military Sealift Command, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate.

The photos above and below – taken at the end of the day Monday – don’t do the show and the crowds justice. We understand attendance is up this year after all the fiscal uncertainty of last year’s congressional budget battles depressed attendance at many military trade shows.

SAS GeneralOne  technology briefing by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division looked especially interesting. The folks from the Navy unit based at China Lake, California were slated to talk about Spike, a miniature missile launcher they have developed. But, unfortunately, the briefing was called off.

We learned some interesting things, prepping for the briefing. To date, according to a China Lake press release, about 26 advanced development test missiles have been built and tested at NAWCWD. But Spike is something else again. It was an in-house project, completely developed and funded by NAWCWD.

Measuring 25 inches and weighing less than six pounds, the miniature precision guided missile has been tested sucessfully against small boat targets. The mini missile was originally intended to provide a lightweight shoulder-fired weapon for use against soft and lightly-armored targets at close range (less than two miles) but the anti-small boat testing has planners wondering if Spike could be used to protect warships against swarming small boat attack, according to IHS Jane’s Navy International.

The mini missile has piqued the interest of the Marine Corps, Naval Special Warfare, special operations forces and the intelligence community, according to Navy Times. The Army’s Research and Development Command (ARDEC) is interested in using Spike the weapon as a counter unmanned air vehicle attack platform, according to the Naval Air Systems Command.

One benefit of the small weaponry, it can take out a few bad guys or a lightly armored vehicle with a reduced risk of collateral damage. We’ll be keeping an eye on this technology and its apparently many potential uses.

The Navy League expo ends Wednesday (April 9).

 

 

April 8, 2014 at 11:58 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (April 6-April 12, 1814)

Bad News from Europe

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow (via Wikipedia)

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow
(via Wikipedia)

 Despite naval victories on Lake Erie and in head-to-head battles at sea, the war is not going well for the United States. Numerous attempts to invade Canada across the Niagara and St. Lawrence frontiers in New York and Vermont have failed – usually because of poor communication and inept leadership.

The frigate USS Essex has been taken by the British off the coast of South America. Another, the USS United States, is bottled up by the British Navy in Connecticut’s Thames River along with two other vessels – the Macedonian and the Hornet. Yet another frigate, the USS Constellation, is trapped at Norfolk, Virginia by the widening British naval blockade of U.S. ports.

Though disappointed by the setbacks, President James Madison is still hopeful the British will come to the negotiating table to rid themselves of a military distraction while still battling Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe.

But the emperor’s ambitions have met with defeat and setbacks following his ruinous invasion of Russia in 1812-1813. A coalition of Austria, Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sweden and several smaller German states has pushed Napoleon’s armies out of Germany and Spain. On March 31, Paris falls to the allies. French lawmakers and a growing number of generals refuse withdraw their support for Napoleon and within days the emperor is forced to abdicate. On April 11, 1814 the Treaty of Fontainebleau is signed by representatives of France, Austria, Russia and Prussia – ending Bonaparte’s reign as Emperor of the French.

Napoleon bids farewell to the Old Guard (via Wikipedia)

Napoleon bids farewell to the Old Guard
(via Wikipedia)

On the same day in London, The Times notes that reinforcements for British troops in North America “all sailed last week,” according to George C. Daughan, in his history “1812 The Navy’s War.” The troops, many of them veterans of Wellington’s campaign against the French in Spain, are headed to Bermuda and then to Quebec. Plans are being drawn up to attack the U.S. capital, Washington, and New Orleans. The number of British regulars opposing the Americans will swell to about 35,000 troops by the end of 1814.

 

April 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm 1 comment

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