Posts filed under ‘Africa’
On the Brink
A U.S. Marine prepares to exit the back of an MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft high above Djibouti near the Horn of Africa.
The Marines — from the Maritime Raid Force with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) – were conducting parachute operations with French special operations forces in May.
The Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane. The one is this photo is assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266. The 26th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group.
To see more spectacular photos of this jump, as well as what the Osprey looks like in flight — and the very interesting headgear of the French parachutists, click here.
Arms Cache Found
Nigerian authorities say they have uncovered a large cache of automatic weapons and explosives belonging to the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, the BBC reports. Authorities say they found the weapons, including rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and anti-tank mines in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano.
Three Lebanese were arrested, an Army spokesman said, insisting that officials had uncovered a Hezbollah cell. Northern Nigeria, where Kano sits, has been wracked by violence over the last three years since Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group launched an insurgency to overthrow Nigeria’s government and establish fundamentalist Sharia law in Nigeria. An estimated 3,000 people have died in Boko Haram-sparked violence, the government said.
President Gooluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three regions – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – and he has admitted that the government has lost control in parts of those states, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Pirates Attack oil tanker
Armed pirates attacked an oil products tanker off the coast of Nigeria in West Africa and abducted an unknown number of crew, Reuters reports. Shipping costs have increased as acts of piracy increase in the Gulf of Guinea region, which includes Africa’s leading oil producer Nigeria. According to Reuters, gunmen boarded the Nigerian-flagged MT Matrix in the early hours Saturday (May 25) about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria in a stretch of water often targeted by pirates.
There were 12 Pakistani and five Nigerian crew members aboard the vessel when it was attacked, sources told Reuters. International navies have not launched counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Guinea – as they have in East Africa – leaving the many vessels in Nigeria waters vulnerable to attack.
Piracy is on the rise in West Africa, according to a Reuters analysis, but the police and coast guard in most of the countries in the region, like Ivory Coast, are too weak and poorly armed to challenge the pirate gangs. In 2010, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which has monitored global piracy since 1991, recorded 33 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. But that figure jumped to 58 last year.
Great Lakes Funding
The World Bank announced today (May 22) that it will pledge $1 billion in development funding for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Jim Yong Kim, the bank’s president, said the proposed funding would help finance health and education services, hydro-electric projects and cross-border trade in the strife-torn region in Central Africa. The Great Lakes region has been destabilized by years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has spread to neighboring nations like Rwanda and Uganda. More than two million people have been displaced – just inside the DRC – since 2012, and another 70,000 people have fled the DRC for neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Thousands more have crossed into the DRC from Angola, the Central African Republic and Burundi, according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“We believe this can be a major contributor to a last peace in the Great Lakes region,” Kim said, according to the Aljazeera news service. The pledged money would spend $100 million to support agriculture and rural livelihoods for displaced people and refugees; another $340 million would go for an 80 megawatt joint hydro-electric project for Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania; $165 million for roads in the DRC and $180 million for infrastructure improvements and border management along the Rwanda-DRC border. Additional funding would go to public health laboratories, fisheries and trade facilitation programs, according to the World Bank.
Kim announced the plan on the first day of a three-day trip to the region with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to support a landmark peace agreement for the DRC and the surrounding region.
But the optimism was marred by fighting between the DRC’s army and fighters from the M23 rebel group near the eastern city of Goma on the Rwandan border. At least 19 people have been killed in the last week. More civilians were killed in rocket and artillery fire Wednesday during the third day of fighting between Congo’s army and the rebels, according to the Voice of America.
Lebanese Firm to Farm Sudan
A Lebanese investment firm plans to spend as much as $800 million on farmland in Sudan to produce animal feed for sale in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.
Beirut-based GLB Invests isn’t the first Arab firm to launch farmland and livestock projects in Sudan, where the farmland is water by the Nile River. The idea is to provide Gulf oil-producing countries with a way to meet foods needs in the arid lands.
Firas Badra, president of GLB Invest, told Reuters that the firm had leased 78,000 hectares (192,000 acres) of land 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Khartoum to produce and export 40,000 tons of animal feed annually.
He said the company was starting out with a goal of producing 40,000 tons temporarily but the land will produce a maximum of 750,000 tons by 2019.
Security Council Votes
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today (April 25) to approve a peacekeeping mission to the war-wracked North African nation of Mali.
A force of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers could be deployed as soon as July, the New York Times reported. About 6,000 troops already deployed by member countries from the Economic Community of West African States — as well as about 1,000 French troops — are expected to form the base of the peacekeeping mission. France intervened in its former African colony in January when militant Islamic extremists and Tuareg separatists threatened Bamako, Mali’s capital.
For nifty interactive timeline by the Times chronicling the 16-month-old crisis in Mali, once one of the few working democracies in West Africa, click here.
Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president has launched the country’s reconciliation commission to deal with security and governance issues in the country’s north. But a Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, refuses to disarm before beginning negotiations with the Malian government, the Voice of America reports.
Nigeria: Business and Bullets
Nigeria’s National Economic Council has approved a $9 billion foreign loan to fund new infrastructure, invest in agriculture and create jobs, Bloomberg reports. The lenders include the Export-Import Bank of China, rthe Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Capital interest rates on the loan will be as low as 2 percent and Nigeria will have more than 40 years to repay.
Meanwhile violence has erupted again in the country’s north, according to the Voice of America. Nearly 200 people were killed last weekend in an attack by the militant Islamist group in the fishing town of Baga. But some analysts say many of the slain may actually have been killed by security forces.
In a report that echoes earlier ones by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government says indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are “a seroious human-rights problem” in Nigeria, VoA reported.
Organized Crime Spreads
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) accepts the fact that he’ll be dealing with continued budget cuts into the forseeable future, but U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly says if he only had “13 or 14″ Coast Guard or Navy vessels to station off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central America, he could dramatically reduce the cocaine traffic coming into the United States.
Kelly, who took over as head of SOUTHCOM last Fall, says the key to hurting the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is interdiction at sea — before the drugs make it ashore. At a conference on countering transnational organized crime, Kelly discussed the network running up from South America through Mexico that brings cocaine, heroin, illegal immigrants and enslaved sex workers into the United States.
He also talked about a surprising Central American ally in the war on drugs. To read more of this story go to Seapower magazine’s website.
Transnational Crime in Africa, Latin America
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – 4GWAR has reported in the past on how Latin American drug cartels are using countries in West Africa as transit points for drugs heading to Europe and points East. Now we learn from a federal official that small arms – particularly shotguns and shotgun shells – have become an illicit trading commodity in West Africa.
Many countries in West Africa have porous borders, weak law enforcement agencies or grinding poverty that makes government officials susceptible to bribes and corruption – and attractive for arms and drug smugglers. Officials in Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sierra Leone have been implicated in drug trafficking in recent years, according to a United Nations report. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be virtually under the control of narco cartels.
Kevin O’Keefe, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division at the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) told a conference on transnational organized crime this week that the low tech, low maintenance weapons like shotguns are being shipped illegally to places like Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. They are sought, not for military or terrorist use, but as a commodity to be bought and sold on the black market.
Shotguns are “not readily available in those countries, so anything you bring over, you’re going to make a profit on,” O’Keefe told 4GWAR after his presentation at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
“Nobody’s going to overthrow a country or command any big presence with shotguns,” O’Keefe said, “but we find 12-gauge shotguns being regularly trafficked back there because they’re easy to move and if you pay a couple hundred dollars here, there’s a big profit margin once you sell them in these countries.”
At the same conference, the head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said drugs like cocaine were being shipped from several South American countries – including Brazil – to West Africa. But Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who oversees U.S. Military interests in all of Central and South America – except Mexico – noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police operations in the region were helping in the war on drugs. The Brazilian Navy has taken it upon itself to patrol the South Atlantic looking for pirates and other criminal activities in the waters off West Africa, he noted.
“Brazil is oriented toward Africa,” said Kelly, noting it shares a common language – Portuguese – with several African nations that were once Portuguese colonies. “Brazil is starting to step out and wants to become a world power,” Kelly said, adding that it is concerned about piracy and sees counter-piracy as a “niche” operation it can perform. He noted that a Brazilian naval officer has served with the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Brazil’s Navy has also participated in patrol operations with the U.S. Navy off West Africa, he said.
A series of suicide and bomb attacks ripped through Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, Sunday (April 14) striking a court complex and the outskirts of the city’s international airport. As many as 29 people were killed in at least two separate attacks, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported.
According to the BBC, the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab, said it carried out the attacks.
Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for a series of attacks in Mogadishu over the last two years. The group has been pushed out of most of the key towns it controlled in the southern part of the country after a stepped-up offensive by African Union peacekeepers allied with troops for Kenya and Ethiopia.
Quoting Somalia’s interior minister, the Associated Press reports that nine militants attacked Mogadishu’s Supreme Court complex and that all nine have been killed. Abdikarim Hussein Guled said that six of the attackers detonated suicide vests and three others were shot and killed during the assault, the AP added.
A car bomb was detonated later, outside a building housing security forces on the road to the airport. The blast went off near a convoy carrying Turkish aide workers, killing two of them, BBC reported.
Ghana Running Dry
Almost 40 percent of Ghana’s population lacks access to tap water, forcing the poor to pay high prices to private suppliers, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The West African nation’s booming economy is also being hurt by water shortages.
According to Bloomberg, water is one of the biggest issues facing Africa’s urban areas, which the United Nations says will see a 66 percent population increase – to 1.2 billion people by 2050.
Tuaregs Scout for French
Here’s a switch: Nomadic Tuaregs who stayed loyal to Mali’s government – during last year’s military coup, the Tuareg rebellion that sparked it and the violent Islamist insurgency that followed it – are now scouting for the French military.
They work as scouts for the French-led mission to purge Mali of its al-Qaeda-linked militants and return the country to government control, according to an AFP story in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.
Chad Withdrawing Troops
After helping drive Islamist insurgents from Mali’s northern towns, Chad intends to withdraw its troops from the embattled North African country because it doesn’t want to get bogged down in a guerilla war, according to Chad’s president, Reuters reports.
About 2,000 troops from Chad – like Mali a former French colony in northern Africa – fought alongside French troops in the heaviest fighting to drive the radical Islamists from remote towns as well as the deserts and mountains in Mali’s north.
But President Idriss Deby says “the Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy guerilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali. “Our soldiers will return to Chad,” he told French reporters, noting a mechanized battalion has already been withdrawn.
Desert Refugee Crisis
A report by the humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, says about 70,000 refugees who fled the violence in Mali are living in “appalling” conditions in a camp in the middle of neighboring Mauritania’s desert.
About 15,000 more refugees have flooded into the camp since the ench intervention in January and now conditions at the camp are so bad that many who were healthy became ill or malnourished after they arrived, CNN reports.
Troops Kill 14 Suspected Rebels
Nigeria says its troops have killed 14 suspected members of the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, during a raid in the northern city of Kano, the BBC reported Sunday (March 31).
At least on soldier was also killed in the assault in a building suspected of being a staging area for attacks on Christians over Easter in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram has been fighting to create an Islamic state.
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 3,000 people in attacks on churches, schools and government officies since 2009, according to the Voice of America. The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” in Nigeria’s Hausa language, has also attacked police, markets and newspapers offices. The group claimed credit for the kidnapping of a French family of tourists in neighboring Cameroon last month.
But human rights groups have accused Nigerian security forces of being trigger happy and killing hundreds of people during their operations against Boko Haram.
Insurgents Attack Timbuktu Again
Two months after French and Malian troops drove Islamist insurgents out of the ancient city of Timbuktu, the rebel fighters were back, attacking inside the city.
Officials said about five insurgents were killed in the attack which started as a suicide car bombing Saturday (March 30) at a security checkpoint, the New York Times reported.
A Malian soldier was also killed, the Voice of America reported. It is not known how many insurgents are still inside Timbuktu, which was occupied by the insurgents for severasl months after a military coup in southern Mali emboldened Tuareg separatists and Islamic terrorist groups to sweep down from the north and seize an area the size of Texas.
French aircraft and ground troops intervened in January — at the request of Mali’s president — to halt an insurgent advance threatening the capital, Bamako. Recently officials in Paris, who had wanted a quick-in-and-out operation, said at least 1,000 French troops were likely to be in Mali until year’s end. But that force would be about 3,000 less than the current French deployment of 4,000 troops.
Kenyan Election Certified
Kenya’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the recent presidential election was won (barely) by Uhuru Kenyatta fair and square, the Voice of America reported. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, won with just 50.7 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, challenged the polling in court.
Violence after the election has been limited compared to the disorder after a close election in 2007 — which Odinga also lost. More than 1,000 people were killed in clashes between rival political groups and security forces.
Complicating matters, however: Both Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, face trial at the International Criminal Court for their alleged roles orchestrating violence during that period.
Xi in Africa
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is in the middle of a four day tour of Africa – part of his first trip abroad as national leader.
Xi will be attending a two day conference of leaders of the so-called BRICS countries starting today (March 26). The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – form an economic bloc made up of many of the world’s leading emerging economies. But Xi is also trying to assure Africans that China interest in their continent isn’t just as a market for its manufactured goods and a source of the raw materials needed by its factories.
His first stop in Africa this week (March 24) was Tanzania. China has had a close relationship with the country since it gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Thousands of Chinese engineers and laborers built a railroad connecting Tanzania with Zambia in the ’60s and ’70s, according to Xinhua’s English.news.cn website.
At a conference center in Dar es Salaam built with Chinese assistance, Xi assured the audience and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete that China was interested in helping African nations develop their economies, pledging $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next two years. He also said China would train 30,000 African professionals, offer 18,000 scholarships to African students and “increase technology transfer and experience,” Reuters reported.
China’s trade with all African countries reached $198 billion in total value in 2012, an increase of 19.3 percent from 2011, according to Chinese customs statistics, the New York Times reported. Much of that trade consists of oil, minerals and other commodities from Angola, Nigeria and other resource-rich countries, the Times said.
After the two-day BRICS meeting Durban, South Africa, Xi will wind up his first foreign tour with a visit to the Republic of Congo (not be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo — formerly known as Zaire.)
At a Washington symposium on conservation and national security that your 4GWAR editor attended last week, a former Bush administration diplomat said China had made Africa “strategic.”
“I think that strategic engagement is going to translate into political influence and geo-strategic influence,” said Jendayi Frazer, the first woman appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “I think it will show up in things like the United Nations Security Council and how votes start to go in the U.N. General Assembly and other such venues,” she added.
But, “African citizens are becoming increasingly impatient with the flood of Chinese laborers” into their labor markets “and particularly, cheap goods and the supply chain” supporting Chinese traders in the African marketplace. “It’s a big problem,” she told the gathering, co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and Conservation International.
Frazer, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, noted however, that China’s “model of supporting business and their strategic outlook in Africa, is something we in the West should emulate. We should do a better job of helping our private sector” in Africa and other regions.
[You can see a video of Frazer and some of the other speakers at this symposium by clicking here. Your 4GWAR editor's question about AFRICOM is at 57 minutes and 55 seconds on the tape. Frazer's comments on China in Africa are at 1 hour, 3 minutes into the tape, followed by her comments on AFRICOM.]
Mali UpdateSix people – including one civilian – have been killed in fighting between Islamist rebels and French and Malian forces in the northern city of Gao (see map), according to Voice of America.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate has named a replacement for a key commander killed by Chadian soldiers in Mali’s northern mountains last month, according to an Algerian broadcaster, VOA reported. The new guy, Djamel Okacha – also known as Yahia Abu El Hamam – is slated to replace Abdelhamid Abou Zeid as a leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly known as AQIM, according to Algeria’s Ennahar TV.
U.S. VS. Ansar-al-DineOne of the violent radical Islamist groups at the center of the insurgency in northern Mali has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
In a statement released today (March 21) the State Department said Ansar-al-Dine was deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization under federal law and also a Global Terrorist entity under an executive order that targets terrorists and those providing them support.
Ansar-al-Dine was one of the Islamic extremist groups that hijacked a largely secular rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali’s desert north last year. The rebellion, the latest in a series of revolts since the 1960s by Tuaregs seeking autonomy from Mali’s government in Bamako, the capital, mushroomed after Malian army officers staged a coup on March 22. Ironically, the military coup arose from Army frustration with Mali’s democratically-elected government was mishandling the Tuareg revolt.
Taking advantage of the political chaos, the Tuaregs swept over nearly half the country, between January and April 2012, seizing control of an area the size of France, including the legendary city of Timbuktu. But hardline groups like Ansar-al-Dine, pushed the Tuareg leadership aside and imposed strict Islamic law in the captured region. Punishments included floggings, amputation of limbs and executions. Most music was forbidden and several historic tombs were destroyed.
Ansar-al-Dine cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, the State Department said. During Ansar-al-Dine’s March 2012 attack on the town of Aguelhok, the group executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more.
The request of Mali’s new government France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent troops and aircraft to halt an insurgent threat to Bamako in January. French troops aided by soldiers from Chad and other African nations have driven the insurgents back almost to the Algerian border.
AFRICOM VS. al Shebaab
Speaking of extremists, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says another violent Islamist group, al-Shabaab in East Africa has been “significantly weakened from a year ago.” Army Gen. Carter Ham told the House Armed Services Committee last week (March 15) that AFRICOM was assisting partner nations battle three other violent groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Ham noted that while there’s been good progress against al-Shabaab by the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia as well as Ethiopian and Somali forces, the group is still dangerous and capable of unconventional attacks to disrupt AMISOM operations as well as the new Somali government.
Asked if he had enough resoures to battle AQIM, Ham said there were “significant shortfalls” in equipment providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.
More on Mali
France says about 10 Islamist fighters were killed today (March 21) when French and Malin forces repelled an attack on Timbuktu, the Voice of America reports.
French President Francois Hollande said this week (March 19) that military operations in Mali are in their final phase. But military analysts are worried al-Qaeda-linked militants could return to nothern ali’s cities and towns once the French withdraw their 4,000 troops from the region. Another concern, says VOA, the Malian army is still weak. The attack on Timbuktu comes a day after a suicide car bombing killed a Malian soldier and wounded six other people at Timbuktu’s airport.
It was the first suicide attack in Timbuktu since French and Malian troops drove Islamist militants out of the ancient caravan city two months ago, the Guardian reported.