Posts filed under ‘Africa’

HOMELAND/NATIONAL SECURITY: Vickers on Counter Terrorism

Counter Terrorism Strategy.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) ,John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice  Department.  (Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado with Moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) and John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security.
(Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

The Pentagon’s top intelligence adviser says terrorists in Syria, Yemen and the wild region along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border still pose the greatest threat to U.S. security.

While the number of groups “aspiring to the jihadi philosophy has expanded” and the number of attacks have grown they are mostly focused on internal or neighboring enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, says Michael Vickers. But “the most dangerous threats to the American homeland emanate from Syria, from Yemen and still from the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region,” Vickers, said during a panel discussion on counterterrorism Thursday (July 24) at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Vickers said the extremist  movement that has swept out of war-torn Syria and seized a large slice of Iraq under the name Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is “in a competition for leadership of the global jihad with al Qaeda … and they’re a threat not to be discounted as well.”

Before he became the principal intelligence adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his successor, Chuck Hagel, Vickers served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity & Interdependent Capabilities, where he oversaw strategic forces, conventional forces and special operations forces – as well as advising the secretary of defense on counter terrorism and irregular warfare.

From 1973 to 1986, Vickers served as an Army Special Forces non-commissioned officer, Green Beret officer and CIA operations officer. During the 1980s he was the principal strategist for the covert paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan (“Charlie Wilson’s War”).

Another security concern for Vickers: the number of foreign fighters streaming in and out of Syria who have passports from Western nations. He said they number in the thousands “so it’s a serious problem.” He noted that the number of foreign fighters streaming into Syria-Iraq is much greater than the flow of foreign fighters during the height of the Iraq War.

“I think Syria is a disaster from a threat perspective” because there are thousands of foreign fighters who a very hard to track, said another panelist, Juan Zarate, a former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism during the George W. Bush administration. He said Syria was “animating the movement” and “drawing adherents” from around the world. “Any time you give terrorist groups — those with global ambitions and potential  reach — the breathing space to operate, to innovate, to strategize, to make connections, that’s a prescription for disaster. And I think that’s a real problem with Syria as it festers.”

Vickers also praised the armed Predator drone as the single most important asset for wearing down al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen.

July 24, 2014 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria bombing, missing school girls; EU Anti-Piracy

Kaduna bombings.

Nigeria in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

Scores of people are reported killed by a pair of explosions in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. Police say one of the bombs apparently targeted a moderate Muslin cleric who has criticized the Muslim extremist group, Boko Haram, the Voice of America reported.

About three hours after the first blast there was another explosion in a crowded Kaduna market “where a VOA reporter on the scene counted dozens of bodies,” VOA said. The second, deadlier, blast appears to have targeted opposition leader and former Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Reuters. Buhari, who was riding in an armored vehicle, escaped harm but a Red Cross official said 50 people were killed in the market blast.

No group claimed responsibility for either blast, but Boko Haram has previously targeted markets and clerics who criticize the group’s hard line ideology and violence. The market blast could also have involved local politics rather than terrorism — given Buhari’s previous political battles with President Goodluck Jonathan. The explosions occurred on the same day that activists marked the 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April.

Nigeria (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World factbook)

Grim Milestone

There were demonstrations Wednesday (July 23) in support of the high school girls kidnapped by the Islamist extremists 100 days earlier. But there is little apparent progress in Nigeria’s attempts to find the girls and return them to their families.

President Goodluck Jonathan met Tuesday (July 22) with the families of the 200-plus girls taken by force. He also pledged to ensure the girls “are brought out alive.” Jonathan also met with some of the schoolgirls who managed to escape their captors.

The suffering continues: In the three months since the girls were taken, 11 of their parents have died, the Associated Press reported. Seven of the kidnapped girls’ fathers were among 51 bodies brought to the Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari this month, said a health worker who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals by the extremists, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, Chibok, the town where the girls were kidnapped is cut off and Boko Haram has been atacking villages that are increasingly close to Chibok.

*** *** ***

EU Anti-Piracy Effort

The Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa

The European Union has extended the mandate of its civilian anti-piracy efforts until the end of 2016.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council voted in Brussels, Belgium to extend the mission on regional maritime capacity building in the Horn of Africa (also known as EUCAP Nestor), the Kuwaiti News Agency reports.

The civilian mission is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to fighting piracy in the Horn of Africa – alongside the EU Naval Force Somalia and the EU training mission for Somalia, the Council said in a statement.

EUCAP Nestor works to reinforce the ability of states in the Horn of Africa and along the Western Indian Ocean to better govern their territorial waters to help them fight piracy more effectively. The EU assistance includes advice, mentoring and training for coast guard, maritime criminal justice system and coastal police units. Work is being done in Somalia, Djibouti, the Seychelles and in Tanzania.

The EU mission has 80 international and 13 local staff in the headquarters in Djibouti as well as in several country offices. It has a budget of 11.9 million euros.

Efforts by the European Union, NATO and the United Nations have been successful in reducing pirate activity of the coast of East Africa, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“In 2011 at the height of piracy, 237 attacks took place in the zone of the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the northwest Indian Ocean. So far in 2014, there have been seven attacks, all of which failed, according to the International Maritime Bureau,” the Monitor reported.

Efforts at sea have included the U.S.-led Combined Task Force 151, with navies from six nations. Operation Atalanta of the European Union Naval Force has a special mandate to protect aid shipments to Somalia. The third flotilla is NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield.

USS Farragut (DDG 99) passes by the smoke from a suspected pirate skiff. (U.S. Navy photo)

USS Farragut (DDG 99) passes by the smoke from a suspected pirate skiff.
(U.S. Navy photo)

 

July 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria Violence, Ebola, U.N. Drones

HOT SPOTS: Nigeria.

Nigeria map (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria map
(CIA World factbook)

Another bombing and more deaths in Nigeria where the government is battling radical Islamist militants. This time, the blast was at a market in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the anti-Western extremisty group blamed for dozens of bombings, killings and kidnappings across Nigeria in recent weeks.

At least 56 people were killed by the car bombing, according to the Associated Press, which noted that Maiduguri, [see map] a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered several attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where many were watching a football match on a big television screen.

But the violence has been widespread. On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers at four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings, killing at least 30 people, according to the AP. Last week, at least 42 people were killed in three blasts around the country, including 24 slain at the biggest shopping mall in Nigeria’s central capital Abuja.

President Goodluck Jonathan will be visiting Washington this summer to attend the United States-African Leaders Summit (August 5-6). On July 31 he will be speaking about his country’s turmoil at the National Press Club in Washington. Jonathan’s government has taken sharp criticism at home and abroad for its inability to stop the bombing attacks or rescue more than 200 high school girls kidnapped from a school in northeast Nigeria in April.

*** *** ***

Ebola Meeting

A different kind of “summit” meeting is being held in Accra, Ghana where health ministers from 11 African countries are trying to “get a grip” on the worsening Ebola outbreak, the BBC reports.

So far, 763 people have been infected with the virus – and 468 of these have died. Most of the cases have been in Guinea where the outbreak started. But it has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The outbreak is the worst since the disease was identified in the 1970s, Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Voice of America. Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. It is spread through contact with the blood or other fluids of infected people.

Meanwhile, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients from authorities will be prosecuted. Sirleaf issued the warning on state radio Monday (July 1), expressing concern that some patients had been kept in homes and churches instead of receiving medical attention, al Jazeera America reported.

Sierra Leone issued a similar warning last week, saying some patients had discharged themselves from the hospital and gone into hiding. Health workers elsewhere in the region have encountered hostility and some have even been attacked.

*** *** ***

Drones Over the Congo

U.N. peacekeepers have deployed Falco Selex ES2 drones along the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo courtesy of Selex ES)

U.N. peacekeepers have deployed Falco Selex ES2 drones along the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo
(Photo courtesy of Selex ES)

United Nations peacekeepers have begun flying unarmed, unmanned surveillance aircraft over the war-wracked eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Italian-made unmanned aircraft are the first acquired by the U.N. for peacekeeping missions but their presence is already posing  questions about how the intelligence they collect will be used and who will get to see it,  according to the New York Times. Another question is just how useful they will be in a country of distances far great than their 125 mile/200 kilometer flying range from their base in Goma [see map].

More and more, drones are flying over some of the toughest peacekeeping missions in the world, improving the United Nations’ intelligence-gathering capability, but also raising new issues about what to do with so much important data, the Times reported.

CIA World Factbook

CIA World Factbook

 

July 3, 2014 at 12:37 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria and Cameroon Battle Boko Haram, Kenyan Governor Arrested, Ebola Out of Control

HOT SPOTS

Nigeria Blast

Nigeria's location (CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

An explosion at a shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, has killed 21 and injured 17, according to officials.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Emab Plaza mall in Abuja’s upscale Wuse 2 neighborhood, the Associated Press reported, but many in Nigeria are blaming the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which is behind a wave of bombings, killings and kidnappings.

On Monday (June 23) a bomb at a medical college in the northern city of Kano killed eight people. At least 14 more were killed last week in a bomb blast in Damaturu, a state capital in Nigeria’s violence-wracked northeast. That attack came at a World Cup television viewing site. In May, twin car bombs at Jos in the central part of the country left more than 130 people dead. A car bomb at a bus station killed 24 more in the Christian quarter of Kano.

According to the AP, two separate explosions in Abuja in April killed more than 120 people and wounded about 200 more at a busy bus station. Both of those blasts were claimed by Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, government officials are cautioning Nigerians to be on the alert in the wake of the Abuja blast.  A government spokesman told Voice of America that the government will continue warning Nigerians about the dangers posed from terrorists.  “We have issued the alert earlier on. It’s an ongoing event. Even yesterday we have a security awareness programs with principals of schools, an initiative that was introduced by the government,” said the spokesman Mike Omeri. “We have also been campaigning on the media for citizens to be more careful and they should be alert even before the World Cup, and the venues for viewing should be more secured.”

But critics say the government and security forces have not been doing enough — including finding and rescuing hundreds of high school girls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram. Despite worldwide condemation and pledges  to provide assistance in locating and returning the girls, they still remain prisoners, their whereabouts uncertain. According to the Canadian news site CBC News, of 395 students who were at the secondary school in the village of Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14, 219 remain unaccounted for. Meanwhile, witnesses say, Islamic extremists have abducted 60 more girls and women and 31 boys from villages in northeast Nigeria.

Cameroon’s Boko Haram Crackdown

Cameroon (CIA World Factbook)

Cameroon
(CIA World Factbook)

Cameroon, Nigeria’s neighbor to the south, has been having its own troubles with Boko Haram militants and this week Cameroon’s military killed 10 suspected Boko Haram members in a clash near the border town of  Mora. Officials said they also arrested 50 Nigerian businessmen on suspicion of collaborating with Boko Haram.

More is just across the border with Nigeria’s Borno state, where the Boko Haram insurgency has raged for five years. The group opposes Western teaching in Nigeria’s schools and wants to create Islamic state practicing strict Sharia law.

Colonel Chioka Pierre told Voice of America that Nigeria security forces have been conducting sweeps as part of an intensified crackdown on violent incidents, believed to be connected to Boko Haram.  He said they have been searching more than half a dozen border villages to prevent incursions or to stop militants from using Cameroon as a hideout or launching pad for attacks.  He said local residents were cooperating with the military to root out Boko Haram suspects in the area.

Kenya: Governor Charged

A regional governor in Kenya has been arrested and charged with terrorism and murder over attacks attacks in the Lamu district in which scores of people were killed.

Issa Timamy was charged over the attacks on the Mpeketoni town area. He faces several charges including murder. Kenya’s president has blamed the attacks on political networks, despite claims of responsibility by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, according to the BBC.

At least 60 people were killed in the attacks earlier in June killed, as gunmen descended on hotels and a police station.

HEALTH

Ebola Outbreak

Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion. (Centers for Disease Control)

Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion.
(Centers for Disease Control)

NPR is reporting that an Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now the largest and most deadly wave of that virus ever recorded. The first cases were confirmed in Guinea in March. Health in West Africa officials thought they had the disease under control, but they did not. A rash of new cases has popped up in the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is calling for “drastic action” and announced an 11-nation summit meeting of the growing crisis.

As of Sunday, 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever – most confirmed to be Ebola – including 399 deaths have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, AFP reported via The Guardian. This week the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the outbreak of the virus, which is deadly in up to 90% of cases, was “out of control,” AFP said.

.

 

June 26, 2014 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Benghazi Attack Suspect, Nigeria Violence

Nabbed.

Libya (CIA World Factbook)

Libya
(CIA World Factbook)

U.S. Special Operations Forces and the FBI have captured one of the suspected leaders of the 2012 fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack.

According to the Washington Post, the joint special operations and FBI Mission had been planned for months and was approved by President Barack Obama on Friday (June 13). The suspect was identified by the Pentagon as Ahmed Abu Khatallah. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Khatallah is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to the operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely left Libya, Kirby said.

Officials said he would be brought to the United States in the coming days to face charges in a civilian court, the New York Times reported, adding that  a sealed indictment sworn out secretly last July and made public on Tuesday (June 17) outlined three counts against him in connection with the deaths of Mr. Stevens, State Department official Glen Doherty and two CIA contractors – Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods.

*** *** ***

Nigeria Bombing

A suicide bomber has killed several people watching a televised World Cup soccer match in northern Nigeria’s Yobe state.

A hospital worker told the BBC that truckloads of injured people are being treated in overcrowded wards. “The injured people are so numerous I cannot count them,” the worker said after the blast in Damaturu town, BBC reported.

An emergency has been declared in three states, including Yobe, amid attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has arrested more than 400 people traveling in southern Nigeria on suspicion they are members of Boko Haram. The men, and reportedly a few women, were traveling in more than 30 buses when they were stopped by the army Sunday (June 15) and detained at an army barracks in Abia state, according to the Voice of America.

Nigeria map (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria map
(CIA World factbook)

Local officials said they were suspected of being members of Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group that has killed thousands of people in the past five years, mostly in the northeast part of the country. But a traditional leader from the north told VoA that the travelers were traders, looking to do business in the south.

Tensions have risen since a church bomb in another southern Nigerian city over the weekend raised fears that Boko Haram is seeking to operate in the southern part of the country. Another attack was reported in the strife-torn north, where more than 20 people killed Sunday (June 15) in the village of Daku. And more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April remain missing, despite pledges from Nigerian authorities and governments around the world to free them.

June 17, 2014 at 11:50 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: What U.S. Commandos Need Around the World

 Needs and Wants, Part I.

4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle

4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle

TAMPA, Florida – At the National Defense Industry Association’s Special Operations Industry Conference (SOFIC), the generals and admirals who oversee Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Air Force combat controllers and all the other specialists in Special Operations explained what they need to operate in vastly different environments.

Over the next three days, we’ll focus on what they said about the three areas of the globe we follow closely at 4GWAR Blog: Africa, Latin America and the Arctic. Today we start with Special Operations Command-Africa.

AFRICA

Army Brigadier General James Linder, the head of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) is responsible for an area three-and-a-half times the size of the United States with 54 countries spanning 11 million square miles. Despite weak infrastructure in many of its countries, the continent as a whole, is booming with 5.4 percent Gross Domestic Product, compared to 3.2 percent for the whole world.

Linder, whose headquarters is based in Germany, said his biggest challenges are “how do we move across vast distances” and “how do we maintain situational awareness?”

And it’s not just distance he’s concerned about, but how intelligence is gathered about potential threats or trouble spots – and how is it conveyed in a helpful fashion to allies who don’t have the communication and encryption technology the United States does.

In a place where nearly everybody has a mobile phone, Linder said he needs to keep an eye on social media as well as more traditional forms of communication to keep tabs on public sentiment and spot potential trouble spots. The cyber environment and social media is driving the way the people act,” said Linder.

His main task is to counter VEO – Violent Extremist Organizations – of which Africa seems to have more than its share – like al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and now, Boko Haram. “Make no mistake, that is a mammoth task,” he said.

To help out, Linder is looking for tools and technology that will help his special operators set up airfields for manned and unmanned aircraft and secure areas – combat outposts, if you will – where a contingent of 50-to-100 U.S or partner country personnel can be moved quickly to jungle or desert environments and sustained for up to eight weeks.

Defense Dept. photo by Specialist Michael MacLeod, U.S. Army

Defense Dept. photo by Specialist Michael MacLeod, U.S. Army

But like most of the special operations commanders in the regional combatant commands, Linder said he’s looking for technology — including unmanned aircraft — that will meet his intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs. But the immediate challenge, he said, was getting that ISR into a format that can be passed to partner militaries quickly and can be quickly interpreted so they can take the proper action.

TOMORROW: Latin America

 

June 10, 2014 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

TERRORISM: Latest on Abduction of Nigerian Schoolgirls

 Nigerian Abductions

Parents of some of the kidnapped girls mourn their losses. (Voice of America photo via Wikipedia)

Parents of some of the kidnapped girls weep and pray.
(Voice of America photo via Wikipedia)

The United States, Britain, France, Canada and China are among the countries pledging to assist Nigerian authorities locate and rescue hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by the violent Islamist group, Boko Haram.

According to the Voice of America, a military spokesman said almost a dozen staff officers were already in Nigeria and would form the core of the U.S. team to aid in finding the nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the team is “moving as quickly as possible.” About 10 more members from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will join the team within days.

The team will be based at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, and will help with communications, logistics and intelligence, VOA reported.

President Barack Obama directed the formation of an interagency coordination and assessment cell after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted a U.S. offer of assistance, the colonel told reporters Wednesday (May 7).

Eight more Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted Sunday (May 4) in the turbulent northeast part of the country and the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram – which has admitted kidnapping hundreds of other girls last month — is suspected to be behind the latest attack, Reuters reported this week.

It happened at a village in Borno state, where their earlier mass abduction took place. That attack has prompted demonstrations in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital … a massive protest on Twitter … and calls for U.S. and British military assistance to help find the girls.

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama joined the international Facebook and Twitter campaign to spur the return of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. (White House photo)

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama joined the international Facebook and Twitter campaign to spur the return of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.
(White House photo)

In addition to the U.S., Britain has promised to provide satellite imagery, France said it will send security agents and Canada offered surveillance equipment and personnel to run it. China became the latest nation to offer help on Thursday, VOA said.

Breaking a three-week silence, Abubaka Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, which wants to restore a very conservative version of Islamic law to the majority Muslim region of Nigeria, threatened to sell the girls his followers seized April 14 at their school in Borno state, Al Jazeera and other news outlets reported.

There has been a great deal of confusion about how many girls were taken, how many were still being held and what the Nigerian government was doing to find them and punish the kidnappers.

Government and school officials first claimed most of the girls had escaped or were returned, But complaints by parents led officials to concede more than 200 – as many as 279 – girls were still being held in a remote, densely-forested area on the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

Nigeria map (CIA World factbook)

the Nigeria map
(CIA World factbook)

UNICEF told the New York Times that the second kidnapping in the village of Chibok involved at least eight girls who were seized from their homes to prevent them from attending school. The girls taken Sunday were between the ages of 12 and 15.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and recently determined the continent’s largest economy has been rocked in recent months by increasingly violent attacks from Boko Haram. 

Bomb attacks in April and again last week in Abuja, the capital, killed a total of 94 people.  In February, 29 male college students in Yobe province were killed in an attack blamed on Boko Haram. And between 100 (the government’s figures) and 300 people (local residents’ count) were killed by suspected Boko Haram gunmen in another northeast Nigerian town on a busy market day Monday, the BBC reported.

The school abduction has embarrassed oil-rich Nigeria, which is hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja this week. Jonathan, who has faced angry protests over the lack of progress in finding the girls, requested help Sunday from the U.S. and other nations.

The Los Angeles Times reported in March, that U.S. troops were helping the Nigerian army establish a special operations command to defeat Boko Haram. U.S. and French air forces fly unarmed Reaper surveillance drones over northern Nigeria, from Niamey in neighboring Niger, to collect intelligence, the L.A. Times noted. The U.S. also has stepped up efforts in North Africa and East Africa against al Qaeda-linked extremist groups.

 

 

May 9, 2014 at 12:00 am 1 comment

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