Posts filed under ‘Africa’
HOT SPOTS: Nigeria.
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.
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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.
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Drones Over the Congo
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.
AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria and Cameroon Battle Boko Haram, Kenyan Governor Arrested, Ebola Out of Control
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, 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Needs and Wants, Part I.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Second Nigerian Bombing.
Another bomb has gone off near Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
The blast Thursday (May 1) occurred in Nyana near the transit center where a suicide bombing last month (April 14) killed 70 people and injured more than a hundred. Initial reports indicate 12 have been killed and many more have been injured in the latest attack, which is believed to have been a car bomb, according to the BBC.
Thursday’s bomb exploded near a checkpoint across the road from the bus station hit by the April 14 blast, according to the Associated Press, and just days before Abuja hosts scores of world leaders, philanthropists and business leaders arrive for the World Economic Forum on Africa.
The violent extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the April bombing – part of a five-year terror campaign to install Islamic sharia law in the predominantly Muslim parts of Africa’s most populous nation. There’s no word on any group claiming credit for the latest blast.
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Train Attack in India
A young woman was killed and several other people injured Thursday (May 1) when two blasts rocked a train in the south Indian city of Chennai.
The bombings come in the middle of India’s on-going general election, but officials can’t say if the two are related, the BBC reported. The incident happened minutes after the express train from Bangalore in southern India to the northeastern city of Guwahati arrived in the Chennai station.
Investigators said Chennai might not have been the target since the train was running an hour and a half late, according to the New York Times.
In April, another bomb ripped through a railway car parked at a station in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 13 people. The blast in the town of Sibi also wounded 35 people, the Associated Press reported.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for “decisive actions” against what he termed “terrorist attacks” following a deadly blast Wednesday (April 30) in a railway station in far Western China.
Xi was winding up a four-day visit to the restive region of Xinjiang when the attack occurred. Local police said three people were killed and 79 were injured when attackers used knives and detonated explosives at a railway station in the city of Urumqi, according to the BBC.
Officials believe two of the dead were the attackers, the Associated Press reported. It was the third attack in seven months by what officials call Xinjiang extremists, the AP said.
Officials in Beijing have blamed such attacks on separatists from the mainly Muslim Uighur minority who number about nine million. The Uighurs have complained for years about political, religious and cultural repression by the Chinese government in Xinjiang.
In March, 150 people were injured and 29 were killed in an attack at a Kunming train station by several men armed with long knives. Chinese officials blamed Uighurs for that attack.
Stopping the Madness
United Nations officials say they found hundreds of bodies piled up after an attack by rebels in South Sudan last week. A year ago in Mali, a rebellion by desert nomads reignited when Tuareg separatists who had fought as mercenaries for Muammar Qaddafi returned home with heavy weapons looted from Libya’s armories after the strongman’s fall.
All over the continent, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, conflict has erupted. National governments and international agencies are trying to head off future violence in Africa – and elsewhere around the world – through a multilateral treaty to regulate the $70 billion to $85 billion international conventional arms business.
The Arms Trade Treaty was overwhelmingly approved by the United Nations General Assembly in April 2013 and nearly 120 countries have signed the treaty. But the pact will only go into effect when 50 countries ratify the treaty. So far, only 31 have done so.
Treaty signatories have included some big arms exporters like the United States, Brazil and Sweden but others like Russia and China have not. And while more than 20 African countries have signed the treaty, only two – Mali and Nigeria – have ratified it.
The ATT regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. The treaty’s aim is to foster peace and security by thwarting uncontrolled destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions — like Africa. “It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools,” according to the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs.
At a gathering hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, on Wednesday (April 23) government experts on Africa and arms controls said signing and ratifying the treaty wasn’t enough to stop the flow of small arms like machine guns, grenades, mortars and rocket launchers.
“The ATT is not a solution in itself. It’s a tool,” said Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, adding that it was important for individual governments to get control of “international transfers and national stockpiles of weapons” whether they were held by the military, local militias or demobilized rebel groups.
He said that securing weapons stockpiles was an area where the United States could help struggling countries. The State Department’s Bureau of Political and Military Affairs has helped countries like Niger, Burundi and Angola secure stockpiles or destroy old munitions. Since 2001, in Africa alone, 250,000 small weapons have been destroyed and 350,000 have been marked with unique serial numbers with U.S. assistance to maintain inventory controls of military and police arsenals and help track missing or stolen weapons.
Raymond Gilpin, dean of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, agreed, saying the treaty is “by no means a silver bullet.”
He noted that in some explosions of violence in Africa like the Rwanda genocide of 1994, “machetes can be as deadly or more deadly” than firearms. One of the basic problems in controlling the movement of arms – legal and illegal – in Africa is the lack of basic data: Just how many guns does a government own? Who has control of them? “Most African countries don’t have a baseline for tracking weapons,” Gilpin said.
He made several recommendations for closing the gap including public/private partnerships to make the supply chain more transparent and “muscular international diplomacy” with countries that aid and abet weapons trafficking.