Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’
Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones
For centuries, mathematician, inventors, traders and explorers have mapped the Earth from the ancient Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent to the mountains of Antarctica and the undersea canyons of the Atlantic.
Now social scientists, soldiers and businessmen are among those mapping a different kind of geography: human geography.
Human geography is a multi-discipline study of the Earth and how people move across it, where they gather on it and how they interact there. It combines numerous fields including history, agricultural science, economics, political science, meteorology, geology, urban studies and anthropology. Studying human geography can be very important for soldiers, says Lt. Col. Andrew Lohman, an associate professor in the Geography Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
On-the-ground knowledge can indicate what is normal and what is out of place in a society, a province or a village. And in an era of low intensity conflicts and asymmetric warfare, that knowledge – combined with cultural sensitivity – can be as important as attack helicopters and satellite imagery.
In five deployments to Iraq with Army Special Forces, Lohman said “we learned everything about an area before going there.” The important lesson wasn’t just the facts like what percentage of the population was urban or who the local power players were, he said, but “how is this going to affect what we’re doing when we’re there.” In short, area analysis and mission analysis, Lohman told your 4GWAR editor at a Human Geography conference last Fall.
Lohman said the study of geography is making a comeback in Army circles. Its popularity is growing at West Point where every year 50 to 60 cadets pick it as their major, he added.
To read more of this story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) website.
Some Additional Background:
In the photo above, soldiers with Texas Army National Guard provide security at the Friendship Gate for team members assessing the progress of the new customs yard being built near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The new facility will help to increase border traffic.
The Army’s Human Terrain program has sent teams of sociocultural experts to both Iraq and Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid bloodshed and calm relations with local populations during the height of fighting in both countries. But the program has been controversial, both for how it was managed and for its basic concept of using civilian social science professionals for a military program.
(UPDATE below in italics: one suspect, two police officers killed, second suspect at large)
The joy and exuberance of the 117th Boston Marathon were shattered a little more than four hours into the 26.2-mile race on Monday when two bombs shattered storefronts and bodies near the finish line.
The latest casualty report puts the death toll at three – including an 8-year-old child and two young women – and 180 injured, many of them suffering horrendous injuries to their legs.
[A SHOCKING AND ALMOST INCREDIBLE DEVELOPMENT:
Early Friday morning two men -- identified Thursday by the FBI as suspects in the bombing -- reportedly tried to rob a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., shot and killed two police officers, hijacked an SUV and fled. They engaged in a four-mile firefight with pursuing police. One suspect was killed, the other fled and is the subject of a massive manhunt in the Boston area. Stories can be read here, here and here.]
Your 4GWAR editor is going to drop the “royal We” normally used when directly addressing the blog’s readers – and rely on the singular pronoun “I” to express my sadness, anger and hurt.
I have run three marathons although I could never qualify to run Boston. But if I had been running there on Monday, I probably would have been crossing the finish line about 40 minutes after the blast. I would have seen all that chaos and pain first hand. And that is disturbing to contemplate.
Boston is one of my favorite cities and I have visited it many times – most recently, the day of the bombing. So I take this attack very personally. I left Boston Sunday, the day before Marathon Monday by train a little more than 25 hours before the first bomb went off.
There is still no one in custody. No suspects have been identified – that we know of. But I believe justice will be served. Remember, it took more than 10 years, but Osama bin Laden now sleeps with the fishes.
Make no mistake about it. The bombings in Boston were acts of terrorism – even if this turns out to be the work of a nut job like the Unibomber or just some crooks who wanted to divert attention from some other illegal activity.
When acts of violence like those in Boston, occur, they have a profound effect on a community and often on the larger society. And it almost doesn’t matter what the motivation was. I say this as someone who lived through the Washington area sniper siege back in 2002. That, too, was the act of criminals with non-political motives. But it was terrorism nonetheless. Schools canceled field trips and recess. Night life in Washington suburbs dried up because people were too afraid to go out at night. Restaurants, stores and movie theaters all lost business.
The day of the first shootings, I saw police cars with their sirens wailing rush to the street outside the store I was in — just a few hundred feet from where one of the first victims was shot. Helicopters hovered over head and police in bullet proof vests toting machine guns scoured a nearby parking lot.
During that period I pumped gas while crouching behind my car: One of the early attacks came at a service station. I ran in a zig zag pattern from the car to the ATM and kept a nervous eye on the nearby woods. The snipers used similar woods as cover to shoot a schoolboy on his way to class.
Experts like to cite specific factors that determine whether an act of violence is “terrorism.” But I believe this distinction is a legalistic one – like the definition of hate crimes. If all violent acts are hate crimes, how do you enforce the law against hate crimes? Where do you get the resources to combat them?
Of course every violent act isn’t an act of terrorism but authorities need to take a look at widening the definition to encompass acts that terrorize people on a large scale.
A last word. Boston is a tough town, just ask anyone who’s driven there. It’s people are tough. They can be demanding of themselves and difficult with others. But they are fair and they are unrelenting in wanting to fix things that are no functioning properly. I am sure Boston will get through this crisis.
Corrects: that I left Boston the day before the bombings NOT the same day as the attack.
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.
On and on and on
U.S. soldiers watch from the rear ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over the mountains in the Khas Uruzgan district of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, March 16, 2013. The soldiers are crew chiefs, who along with Afghan commandos, provided security for a government-led shura, or meeting.
Please click on the photo to see a larger image.
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.
An Afghan National Army soldier observes his sector during a clearing operation near Camp Shorabak in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Behind the soldier on the right is a four-wheel MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle.
U.S. and coalition troops are letting Afghans take the lead in operations like this in preparation for when the Afghan National Army takes over security responsibilities in 2014.
To see more photos of this operation, click here.
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.
Boko Haram Attack
Nigerian security forces say they repelled an attack on a military base by the radical Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, killing 20 militants. An Army spokesman told the Voice of America that the attack occurred today (March 3) in the village of Monguno (also spelled Munguno) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Maiduguri (see map) on the country’s northeast.
Nigeria’s Joint Task Force on Operation Restore Order said three four-wheeled drive vehicles and eight motorcycles were used in the attack, according to the Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper group (via the All Africa website). Army spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa was quoted as saying AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and a large quantity of ammunition were recovered from the attackers by government troops.
There was no mention of civilian or military casualties. The Associated Press reported that witnesses said the attack also killed a village leader. It came just two days after the release of a video purportedly made by Boko Haram’s leader, saying the anti-Western group – which wants to impose Islamic law in Nigeria – will not call off its attacks until sharia becomes the law of Nigeria.
Did Chadians Score Again?Did soldiers from Chad — who are assisting French troops battling radical Islamist insurgents in the mountains of Mali — kill the mastermind of last month’s hostage-taking attack at an Algerian gas plant?
On Saturday, the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, said his troops killed about 40 militants in a stronghold near the Algerian border, Reuters reported. Among the dead, it was claimed, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed commander of an al Qaeda affiliate who claimed responsibility for the attack on the In Amenas natural gas plant in Algeria. More than 60 people were killed during the hostage siege and final rescue/assault by Algerian troops in January. That al Qaeda attack came just days after the French launched a military intervention in Mali at the government’s request.
If true, the news of Belmokhtar’s it would be “a major blow to al Qaeda in the region and to Islamist rebels forced to flee towns they had seized in northern Mali by an offense by French and African troops,” Reuters said March 2.
But now ther commander of Chad’s troops in Mali says he can’t confirm the terror leader’s death in the assault on the stronghold. “It is certain that some leaders were killed. But I can’t confirm that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed, Gen. Oumar Bikomo told the New York Times.
But the general was more certain about the death of another al Qaeda-linked commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, which Chad officials reported Friday.
Meanwhile, a third French soldier has been killed in the military intervention in Mali called Operation Serval.
Imaginative Rhino Protection
Illegal poaching of the wild African rhinoceros for its incredibly valuable horn is pushing the beast toward extinction and that’s pushing environmentalists to come up with some unusual solutions to the problem.
Writing in the journal Science, four leading environmental scientists are suggesting legalizing the rhino horn trade as a way to regulate and control it, Reuters reports. There is an incredible black market for rhino horn, an ingredient in traditional Chinese folk medicine. Prices have climbed from about $4,700 per kilogram ($2,132 per pound) in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilo ($29,485 per pound) today, the scientists said.
There are only 5,00 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left — mostly in South Africa and Namibia — even though a 1977 treaty banned the international trade in rhino horns.
Instead, the scientists say, “the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn.”
Meanwhile, Google and the World Wildlife Fund are teaming up to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over parts of Africa and Asia to monitor and catch poachers who kill endangered tigers, elephants and yes, rhinos, according to news reports.
The WWF is already flying small hand-launched drones over national parks in Nepal. Now Google is giving the environmental protection group a $5 million grant to expand their use of drones and other high tech devices like wildlife tagging and analytical software.
The 15-member West African trading bloc, known as ECOWAS, is giving the interim government in coup-stricken Guinea-Bissau seven more months to prepare for national elections.
The tiny West African nation was wracked by a military coup days before a presidential election last April, prompting international partners like the European Union to freeze aid for the former Portuguese colony. The military gave power back to an ingterim civilian government headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo last May in a deal brokered by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).
Elections were supposed to be held in May 2013 but the heads of state of ECOWAS nations, meeting in Ivory Coast, extended the transitional period in Guinea-Bissau until Dec. 31, Reuters reported, to give Nhamadjo more time to set up the election machinery before the end of the year.
Guinea-Bissau is said to be a major transit hub for South American dug cartels moving narcotics to Europe, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, officials in another small est African nation say they have foiled an attempted coup.
Authorities in Benin said Sunday (March 3) that a plot to oust President Thomas Boni Yayi and install a military regime has been thwarted, according to Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper.
In a statement read to journalists Sunday, State Prosecutor, Justin Gbenameto, said a Colonel and a businessman were arrested for plotting “to block the Head of State from returning to Cotonou”[Benin's capital] after his trip [to meet with South American leaders in Equitorial Guinea] “and to institute a military regime,” The Guardian website said.
A French AMX-10RCR armored reconnaissance vehicle passes a tribal ally — possibly a Tuareg — near Gao on the Niger River in mid-February during the French campaign to assist Mali’s beleaguered army retake the northern half of the country. Unfortunately, the article on the French Ministry of Defense website doesn’t give further details about this scene.
The French launched a military intervention Jan. 11 with attack helicopters, fighter jets and some 4,000 troops to halt a militant Islamic insurgency sweeping across the largely desert country that threatened Bamako, the capital. France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, maintained the rebellion could cause Mali to become a safe haven for terrorist groups and launching platform for attacks on Europe. The radical Islamists, with ties to al Qaeda affiliates in Africa, hijacked a rebellion by autonomy-seeking Tuareg tribesman last year. While the Islamist fighters have been driven from most towns and villages, they continue a stubborn resistance in the mountains of Mali’s north.