Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’
Updates with U.S. terrorist organization designation for al-Mulathamun Battalion; background on UN concerns; quote from Garvelink and background on Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Africa’s vast Sahel region – on the southern edges of the Sahara Desert – has become the object of heightening international concern because of repeated droughts, political turmoil and violence. Many Western observers fear that the windswept region is becoming a breeding ground for disaffected Islamist extremists and terrorists spreading that violence across the continent — and possibly to Europe.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday (December 18) named the al Mulathamun Battalion, a former al Qaeda-affiliated group operating in the Sahel, as a foreign terrorist organization. The group, once part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split with AQIM.
A United Nations official says 16 million people in the Sahel are at risk of hunger in 2014 due to conflicts and rapid population growth — despite recent good harvests and rainfall, according to a Reuters report.
And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people and other forms of transnational organized crime threaten security in the border region south of the Sahara. Because of the region’s vast size and porous borders, the security challenges can be addressed successfully “only if the countries in the region work together,” Ban told a U.N. Security Council meeting Dec. 12 on the Sahel situation.
Key to meeting those challenges is economic development and medical assistance, according to most of the panelists at a discussion Wednesday night on the troubled North African region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank
A 2012 drought across the 10-nation region left 11 million people in danger from what the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls food insecurity: They have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices while awaiting the next harvest.
But violence in the area is on the increase, endangering outside aid workers trying to alleviate the crisis. “Never before has the intensity of conflict been so great,” said Santiago Martinez-Caro, general director of Casa Africa, the Spanish government’s diplomatic and economic outreach organization with Africa, where Spain once had colonies.
As the region’s economy continues to falter “the piracy issue is going to grow,” Martinez-Caro said, eventually sparking a multi-national military response like the one around the Horn of Africa on the continent’s eastern coast.
The people of the region are tough and resilient nomads, said journalist and film maker Donovan Webster. “All they need is water, education and some medical help,” he said, adding that clean water from newly dug wells has cut down on disease and migration.
But security remains a crucial issue for international organizations trying to assist victims of hunger, bad water and health problems, said Vivian Lowery Derryck, former assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID).
“I think we can use development issues to promote peace,” said Lowery Derryck, who now heads The Bridges Institute. She noted that civil society – representing all aspects of a society – from the extended family to the state – can be a political catalyst to change governments without resorting to rebellions or military coups.
But the military can play an important role – positive or negative – when it comes to change, she added. She noted a number of factors can affect the actions of a soldier: mission, doctrine, religious considerations and respect from the civilian population. “Is he going to get paid?” Lowery Derryck asked, adding that if the soldier isn’t getting paid, he was likely to join AQIM, which does have money.
William Garvelink, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the U.S. government has closed most of its diplomatic missions in the Sahel, where institutions are weak and many governments are corrupt. A mediator in many of the region’s disputes — former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, “is gone,” he added — killed in a revolt that has released a flood of small arms and other weapons. Garvelink now is senior adviser for global strategy at the International Medical Corps.
After the split with AQIM, Mokhtar Belmokhtar merged al Mulathamun Battalion with another violent group: Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, according to the State Department. The new group, al Murabitoun, “constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel,” the State Department said.
The one-eyed Belmokhtar was the mastermind behind a January attack on a gas facility in Algeria that left left 38 civilians dead, including three U.S. citizens, according to the New York Times.
Of Monuments and Partners
TAMPA – “The Monuments Men,” the 2009 book on which the upcoming George Clooney-Matt Damon motion picture is based, highlights a little-known aspect of World War II.
The U.S. and British armies sent a small band of art hisorians, museum directors, conservationists and other art experts to Continental Europe in 1944 to prevent the destruction of monuments and other artifacts representing thousands of years of Western culture.
We don’t know if the movie will be entertaining, but the book is fascinating. Your 4GWAR editor is reading it during off-hours while attending the Special Operations Summit in Florida sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
It occurs to us that the reasoning behind the original Monument Men’s mission parallels much of what we’re hearing here in Tampa from officials representing Special Operations Command, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Defense University and the Naval Post Graduate School.
In short, war – whether conventional or irregular – is more than just neutralizing the enemy to achieve political and military objectives. Culture and place and community have to be kept in mind.
Special Operations Forces leadership has been saying for a while now that they have to adopt a policy of partnering with friendly nations and letting them do more of the heavy lifting – after training and equipping – in their own internal defense.
Speaker after speaker here discussed the need for intelligence about a place and its people as much as the best way to deter guerrillas, short-circuit insurgencies or eliminate terrorists by kinetic means. In the future, U.S. Government officials in the field – civilian as well as military – will have to strike partnerships with local militaries, leaders and communities to have any hope of success. U.S. Special Operations missions in Colombia and the Philippines were cited as true success stories.
In “The Monument Men,” there’s a stark contrast between the Germans and the Allies. While Hitler’s retreating armies were looting France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands of their art treasures, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, issued an order a week before D-Day that said in part:
“Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe, in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.
“It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols wherever possible.”
Ike went on to say that in some cases – like the destruction of the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy – necessity dictates that the lives of Allied troops come before “some honored site.” But in other circumstances damage and destruction “are not necessary and cannot be justified,” the order noted.
It’s remarkable to think that in the midst of the biggest war in human history, the good guys – at least some of them – were thinking about the big picture … Asking what good would it do to liberate Europe if you wrecked it and destroyed the national identity of the people living there.
It just goes to show that good ideas often have a history.
4GWAR will have more on the conference – which had a surprisingly large turn-out for these budget-constrained times – in the coming days.
U.S. Providing Airlift
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed U.S. Africa Command to begin transporting African Union forces to the Central African Republic (CAR) to assist international relief and peacekeeping operations in the strife-torn nation.
Hagel took that step Monday (December 9) at the request of French Defense Minister Yves Le Drian, whosought “limited assistance from the U.S. Military” to support the United Nations-authorized effort to end the sectarian violence that has left hundreds of Christians and Muslims dead, according to a Pentagon statement.
U.S. aircraft will transport troops from the East African nation of Burundi to joint the French intervention, according to the Defense Department.
France has deployed 1,600 soldiers to the CAR, a former French colony, as part of a U.N.-mandated effort to restore stability in the CAR, where more than 400 people have been reported slain in fighting between Muslims and Christians, the Associated Press reported.
The Pentagon said the United States was joining the international effort to stop the violence because “immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region.”
In a recorded message President Barack Obama has urged the “proud citizens of the Central African Republic” to remain calm amid mounting sectarian violence, the Voice of America reported. The impoverished country began to slide into instability, according to VOA when members of the rebel Seleka movement seized power in March and deposed the CAR President Francois Bozize
A Great Man’s Passing
Nelson Mandela, a boxer turned lawyer who fought for freedom and justice in his homeland and became the first black president of South Africa, has died.
Mandela, 95, passed away Thursday (December 5) at home in Johannesburg after years of declining health.
After 27 years in prison for battling the racist apartheid government in South Africa, Mandela was released in 1990, at age 72, following worldwide pressure on the white government in Pretoria. Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first president of color in the country’s first free, multi-racial elections in 1994.
He led the racially-polarized nation to reconciliation after years of brutality and injustice during apartheid. Mandela stepped aside after serving one five-year term, saying it was time for others to lead. It was a seldom-followed example for other African leaders.
Called “the father of his nation” by his many admirers, Mandela was praised by President Barack Obama. Mandela was mourned across Africa and praised by world leaders and ordinary people.
Central African Republic
The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved on Thursday (December 5) the deployment of French and African troops in the Central African Republic, where a coup in March has dissolved into chaos and violence, CNN reports.
The Security Council also voted to impose an arms embargo on the CAR, which lies east of Cameroon and north of the Democratic Republic of Congo (see map).
France’s president, Francois Hollande, says a French-led operation to protect civilians in the CAR will be launched immediately following the latest outbreak of sectarian fighting, according to the BBC. Hollande said a contingent of 650 troops will be “doubled within a few days, if not a few hours.” The French troops, under U.N. auspices, will join up with an existing African peacekeeping force.
Hollande said the the French role will be different from the one mounted in Mali, where French and African troops hunted down Islamist militants in the desert. Instead, they will act more like gendarmes, separating violent factions, the BBC reported. The CAR’s prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye welcomed the move, the BBC said.
Meanwhile, a senior crisis response adviser for the human rights group, Amnesty International, expressed concern about the security situation in the CAR following the clashes between rival armed groups in the capital, Bangui, the Voice of America reported.
An official with the medical relief group, Doctors Without Borders, told the New York Times that at least 50 people have been killed in the fighting, with 100 others wounded. Other reports put the death toll at around 100, the Times reported.
Threat Rises in Afghanistan
A United Nations official says aid workers in Afghanistan are under an increasing threat in the war wracked country as most U.S. troops are preparing to leave by the end of next year.
Nine Afghan aid workers were killed in separate attacks on two days last month. Suspected Taliban gunmen killed six aid workers in northern Faryab province (see map) November 27. An explosive device killed three other aid workers in southern Uruzgan province the previous day, the Voice of America website reported.
An October report from the Aid Workers Security Database identified Afghanistan as the most dangerous country for aid workers, VoA added.
Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, said in a statement Saturday (November 30) that he’s “extremely concerned” about the rise in attacks on civilian aid workers during a time of transition when Afghanistan soldiers and police will be taking over security responsibilities from U.S. and NATO coalition forces.
“These tragic incidents illustrate the growing risks surrounding the delivery of aid and the increasing disrespect for humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan,” Bowen said.
“These tragic incidents illustrate the growing risks surrounding the delivery of aid and the increasing disrespect for humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, there were 237 attacks on Afghanistan’s aid workers through November – with 36 people killed, 46 wounded and 96 detained or abducted. Last year, there were 175 attacks, with 11 people killed, 26 wounded and 44 detained or abducted, the New York Times reported.
UN Drones Patrol Congo Skies
U.N. Peacekeepers have deployed two unarmed, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor rebel activity near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda, the BBC reports.
It is the first time U.N. peacekeepers have deployed a drone bought and paid for by the United Nations – rather than bringing them from their home countries, which Belgian and Irish troops have done in previous African peacekeeping missions.
The drones, two Falcos manufactured by Selex ES, a unit of Italian aerospace contractor Finmeccanica, were launched in the skies over Goma, a citry in the eastern DRC briefly occupied byM23 rebels. The rebels are mostly ethnic Tutsi fighters who were integrated in the DRC Army in 2009, but mutinied in 2012 over their alleged mistreatment by the DRC Army.
More than 800,000 people fled their homes due to the violent revolt, which M23 leaders ended last month after U.N. Peacekeepers took the gloves off and pursued an offensive against the rebel group.
The drones will be used to see if any neighboring countries are supplying the rebel militia. Both Rwanda and Uganda have denied aiding the M23 rebels. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the BBC that if successful in the DRC, the Falco UAVs could be used in other U.N. Peacekeeping missions.
Soldiers with the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, patrol at Multinational Base Tirin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. The Australians are assigned to the U.S. Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment Task Force.
AROUND AFRICA: Joseph Kony Surrender Talk; Nigeria vs. Boko Haram, Swedish Drone on East African Anti-pirate Patrol
End of the Road for LRA Leader?
Is he really sick? Does he seriously want to surrender? Those were the questions swirling around Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous, brutal rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. An African Union official told reporters at United Nations headquarters Wednesday (November 20) that many reports say Kony – who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – is seriously ill and on the run along the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Associated Press.
Ambassador Francisco Madeira told reporters the nature of Kony’s illness isn’t known, but he said Michael Djotodia, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) told him that his people had been in contact with Kony.
A spokesman for Djotodia went even farther, telling the Voice of America that Djotodia has talked with Kony by phone and that Kony said he is ready to put down his arms and come in from the bush.
The spokesman said Kony is in the southern part of the CAR near the Democratic Republic of the Congo with some 7,000 fighters. Past estimates have placed Kony’s troop strength as less than a thousand.
But U.S. Officials are skeptical that Kony means to surrender, the BBC reported. A State Department official told the British broadcaster that while some rebels have been in contact with authorities but Kony is not among them. Kony created the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 1980s as a popular uprising against the Ugandan government. But the LRA was driven out of Uganda in 2005 and has been wandering between the CAR, the DRC and South Sudan, wreaking havoc, killing villagers and soldiers and abducting children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.
A contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been advising African troops in the hunt for Kony and the LRA. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for him.
Battling Boko Haram
Lawmakers in Nigeria have approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency declaration in areas of the West African nation where troops are fighting Islamist militants, the Voice of America reports.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in May, as part of an effort to defeat the violent militant group Boko Haram.
Last week (November 13) the U.S. State Department declared Boko Haram and a splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. government finding labeled Boko Haram a “militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” – al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.
The State Department designation held Boko Haram responsible “for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years – including targeted killings of civilians.” It accused the group of a “brutal campaign” against Nigerian military, government and civilian targets including a September attack that killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheikh and a 2011 suicide bombing at United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that left 21 dead and dozens injured.
U.S. officials accused Ansaru, a smaller group which split with Boko Haram in January 2012, of attacking the Nigerian military and Western targets like the kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers earlier this year.
Despite the inroads Nigerian security forces have made against the jihadist group in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have increased in rural areas, says John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. On the CFR Blog, Africa in Transition, Campbell says there are reports Boko Haram is now targeting – and beheading – truck drivers on the road between Kano and Maiduguri (see map, click to enlarge image) in northeast Nigeria, where the group is trying to impose strict Islamic sharia law.
Horn of Africa
Saab’s Skeldar Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) has been operationally deployed aboard a Spanish naval vessel on anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, the African defense and security website Defence Web reports.
Skeldar is an unmanned rotary wing short-to-medium range aircraft. Mikael Franzen, director of tactical UAS for the Swedish defense contractor, said the Skeldar V-200 is being operated together with a manned helicopter to extend the ship’s surveillance reach in counter piracy activities by the European Union’s Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean .
The unmanned helo is based on the Spanish Navy offshore patrol vessel BAM Meteoro. Prior to being deployed in the Atalanta mission, Skeldar unerwent successful sea trials aboard the BAM Relampago in the waters off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Defence Web said.
Money’s Tight but Threats Are Growing
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) may be best known for rescuing pirate captives in and around the Horn of Africa and taking out al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan …
… but that’s only a small part of what the SOF community does, says Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command – which oversees the organization, training and equipping of SOF in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
“Our core competency is understanding this human domain,” McRaven, a Navy SEAL, said during a panel discussion at last month’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) conference in Washington. He was referring to understanding the language, culture, history and human networks of any given battle space before operations begin – whether counter insurgency or hostage rescue.
And that competency will be crucial in future conflicts where landpower intersects with the human and cyber domains, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, another member of the panel discussing the human nature of war and its implications for strategic landpower at AUSA. “Human interaction in a complex environment is going to be key to our success in the future,” Odierno said, noting: “I see SOF as the connective tissue between the [local] population and the conventional forces.”
McRaven has been telling audiences that as threats rise globally – but defense funding dwindles in coming years – SOF is going to have to partner with foreign allies, NATO forces and other agencies within the U.S. government like the State Department to accomplish its missions.
“We have limited resources, we have to figure out where we’re going to apply those resources,” McRaven told the Aspen Institute Security Forum in July. But he noted that working with partners is nothing new to SOF. “The larger part of what we do is help build partner capacity,” McRaven told the Aspen, Colorado conference.
To read more of this article, go to the Institute of Defense and Government Advancement‘s website.
MALI: Journalists Found Slain
Two French radio reporters were found slain in Mali Saturday just hours after they were kidnapped and a website in neighboring Mauritania says an al Qaeda affiliate is claiming responsibility for the murders, Reuters reported.
The dead were identified as Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont. Their bodies were found Saturday (November 2) by a French patrol eight miles (12 kilometers) outside the town of Kidal (see map), where a Tuareg uprising last year plunged Mali into chaos, leading to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of the country by militants linked to al-Qaeda.
The news website Sahara Medias said on Wednesday (November 6) it had received a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda’s regional wing for the killing of two journalists.
According to Reuters, a Sahara Medias reporter said a spokesman for a senior regional commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), had called by satellite phone to read a communique in Arabic. The caller had started by speaking in Tamashek, the language spoken by Tuaregs in northern Mali.
The communique said the killing was just a part of the price France will pay for this year’s military intervention by France, which drove out Islamist militants who had seized half the country.
Meanwhile, Paris says its timetable for withdrawing troops from Mali remains firm despite an upsurge in violence, according to the Voice of America. France has about 3,000 troops in Mali and intends to withdraw about 2,000 of them by year’s end.
The abduction of the two journalists came just days after the liberation of four French hostages in neighboring Niger. The men had been held by AQIM for three years.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists a total of 42 journalists have been killed around the world so far this year, the New York Times reported.
M23 Rebels Give Up
The M23 rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is ending its insurgency, hours after the government claimed military victory, the BBC reports.
The M23 movement said it would adopt “purely political means” to achieve its goals and urged its fighters to disarm and demobilise. Meanwhile the government says the last remaining rebels had either surrendered or fled the country.
More than 800,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the turbulent region of the DRC since M23 — mostly ethnic Tutsis fighters who were integrated into the DRC Army in 2009 but then mutinied and revolted in 2012 over their alleged mistreatment by the Army.
The rebels announced they would disarm and pursue political talks just hours after government forces drove the rebels out of their last two hilltop bases of Tshanzu and Runyoni, Aljazeera reported. A two-week UN-backed offensive had cornered the rebels in the hills along the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
Shooting at LAX
A shooting at an airport security checkpoint in Lose Angeles has left one Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer dead, wounded two other TSA agents and a bystander, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Panic and hysteria spread through Los Angeles Airport’s (LAX) Terminal 3 Friday (October 31) following gunfire that killed 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez. He was the first TSA employee killed in the line of duty since the agency was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Police chased down and shot the suspected gunman in the leg and head. He is being treated for his injuries at an area hospital. He was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, originally from New Jersey. Authorities are still trying to determine why Ciancia pulled a semi-automatic rifle in the security lane and began shooting.
Federal authorities charged him with murder of a federal officer and committing violance at an international airport. Both crimes are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty, the New York Times reported.
The incident disrupted air travel at the nation’s third busiest airport for hours. The disruptions had a ripple effect across the United States and elsewhere around the world as police searched the airport to make sure the gunman had no accomplices or had left booby traps in the busy transportation hub.
Authotrities said Ciancia had no apparent links to any terrorist group but the attack underscored the threat posed by a lone wolf gunman – whatever the motive.
Drug Gang’s Super Tunnel
U.S. officials in California have uncovered a tunnel running under the U.S.-Mexico border from Tijuana to San Diego – packed with marijuana and cocaine.
The tunnel stretched for the length of six football fields end-to-end and had lighing, ventilation and an electric rail system, officials said. The tunnel, which authorities described as a “Super Tunnel” was 35 feet below the surface, four feet tall and three feet wide. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told reporters it was built by Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, CNN reported.
Three people are in custody charged with drug trafficking. If convicted they face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force — numerous tunnels for smuggling people, drugs and weapons have been discovered between the United States and Mexico in recent years – found the subterranean passageway Wednesday (October 27) night in the course of a long-term investigation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Authorities also seized about 325 pounds of cocaine along with more than eight tons of marijuana associated with the would-be operators of the tunnel, San Diego TV Station XETV reported.
It was the eighth large-scale smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006, according to ICE. In total, federal authorities have detected more than 75 such tunnels in the last five years, mostly in California and Arizona.