Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’
Scores of teen-age girls have been kidnapped from their secondary school in Northeast Nigeria late Monday (April 14) by armed men believed to be members of the radical Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.
The raid comes just a day after a deadly bus station bombing in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, prompting critics to question the government’s claims of progress in its campaign to suppress the militant group. Hundreds have died this year in attacks attributed to Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is forbidden (sinful),” in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.
There are conflicting reports about the number of girls taken and how many escaped their captors. The BBC quoted the Nigerian military as saying all but eight of 129 kidnapped girls have escaped. “But the BBC’s Will Ross in Abuja says there is no independent confirmation of this,” BBC added. Reuters reported between 50 and 100 girls were taken and at least 14 had managed to escape, according to officials.
The Associated Press reported that “about 100 girls” between the ages of 16 and 18 were kidnapped and some of the girls escaped by jumping off a slow-moving truck in the kidnappers’ retreating convoy. Citing a security source, AFP said it was told more than 100 girls remained in captivity.
The gunmen killed a soldier and police officer guarding the girls’ school at Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno state – one of three under an 11-month state of emergency. All schools in Borno state were closed three weeks ago because Boko Haram has been targeting schools and killing or driving off students. The girls’ school was reopened, however, so they could take their final exams, a local government official told reporters.
The girls were believed to have been taken to the rugged Sambisa Forrest near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, where Boko Haram is reported to have bases. The Islamic extremists have kidnapped girls in the past to serve as cooks and sex slaves.
On Sunday, 75 people were killed and more than 140 wounded in the bombing of a bus station in Abuja just a few miles from the capital’s government buildings. That attack raised concerns that militants’ attacks were no longer confined to the strife-torn northeast, where traditional rivalries between mostly Christian farmers and mainly Muslim herders over land and water rights have morphed into increasingly violent attacks.
No group has claimed responsibility for either the bus station bombing or the mass abduction but President Goodluck Jonathan and other leaders blame Boko Haram, which launched a violent insurgency in 2009 to make the country’s predominantly Muslim north into an Islamic state governed by conservative sharia law. Since 2010, the violence has claimed an estimated 3,600 people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and biggest oil producer.
*** *** ***
Central African Republic
Fifteen United Nations and private humanitarian agencies are appealing for $274 million to fund emergency aid for people fleeing violence in the Central African Republic, the Voice of America reports. Nearly 200,000 people have fled the C.A.R. since December, but the U.N. expects that number to grow to more than 360,000 by the end of the year.
The crisis stems from months of sectarian violence in one of Africa’s poorest nations. The mayhem began when Muslim-led Seleka rebels seized power a year ago and overthrew the government of longtime President Francois Bozize. In a backlash, predominantly Christian anti-balaka militia members targeted Muslim civilians for revenge and attacked positions held by the rebels.
The U.N. Security Council voted last week (April 10) to send 12,000 troops to quel violence and restore order in the C.A.R. U.N. peacekeepers will relieve about 6,500 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French troops who have struggled to keep the peace in the former French colony.
In Geneva, U.N. officials said the $274 million would be used to meet the needs of refugees from the C.A.R., who have escaped to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Officials in the DRC, where thousands of refugees have fled, are worried the conflict could threaten the security of the entire region.
Lambert Mende, the DRC’s information minister, says his government is concerned because it shares a 1,600-kilometerf border with the C.A.R. “So whatever can happen there, can impact our security,” he told the Voice of America. He added that the DRC was “very eager” to contribute to the stabilization effort. The DRC has sent a battalion of soldiers and a unit of plainclothes policemen to the C.A.R, according to Mende.
Chad has withdrawn all of its 850 soldiers in the AU peacekeeping contingent following accusations that Chadian troops aided Muslim rebels in the C.A.R. – which Chad’s government denied, the BBC and AFP reported.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno ordered the pullout after a U.N. investigation found that Chadian troops “opened fire on the population without any provocation” in the capital, Bangui, on March 29. Thirty people were killed and another 300 were injured, according to the U.N. Chad’s foreign ministry dismissed the findings as “malicious,” adding that Chad was being unfairly blamed for the C.A.R.’s woes.
*** *** ***
President Blaise Compaore has been run Burkina Faso since 1987, but a provision of the West African nation’s constitution bars him from running again when his term expires in 2015.
But 50,000 people turned out for a rally calling for the constitution to be amended so Compaore can seek another term, according to an Associated Press report via Al Jazeera.
The rally Saturday (April 12) follows a series of defections of high-level officials in Compaore’s ruling party over concerns that the president would indeed try to change the constitution so he could seek anothjer term.
Algerians go to the polls Thursday for a presidential election that incumbent President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika is widely expected to win, the Voice of America reports. Bouteflika, 77, is seeking his fourth term in office, although he has made few public appearances since suffering a stroke last year.
He faces five opposition challengers, but Bouteflika continues to have the backing of the ruling National Liberation Front party. In February, three Algerian opposition parties called for a boycott of the elections after the government announced Bouteflika would seek another five-year term.
Unemployment is now high in Algeria, especially among youth. And despite the North African country’s vast oil and gas resources, much of the population remains poor.
WASHINGTON – Back in February, 4GWAR attended the first major address by new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. At that time, Johnson said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has become “very focused” on Syria and the foreign jihadists streaming into the war-torn country to aid the rebels battling the regime of President Bashir al-Assad.
Johnson said DHS was concerned about what those fighters will do when they return to their home countries across the Middle East, Africa – and North America, indoctrinated in a violent Islamic mission.
On Friday (April 11) we heard about another threat emanating from Syria – the rise of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia as a military force in Syria.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, issued a report last week on Hezbollah in Syria. Among the findings: that Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia which has been battling Israel and the West for decades, has become a major player in the Syrian conflict.
Hezbollah has been designated as a Global Terrorist organization by the United States since 1995 for a long history of terrorist attacks against American citizens and officials – including the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon during the 1980s.
According to the ISW report, Hezbollah has moved beyond its role as an adviser and trainer of Syrian troops and taken over a direct combat role against the mostly Sunni rebels battling Assad’s forces.
Iran and Syria have been important supporters of Hezbollah and the Syrian conflict threatened to disrupt that so-called Axis of Resistance. Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict has shored-up Syria’s lagging army, protected the hub of Iran’s power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean and given Hezbollah, as a fighting force, experience in urban warfare. But it has come at a cost – hundreds of causalities — over the past year.
One key take-away, says Marissa Sullivan, an ISW research fellow and the report’s author, is that Hezbollah, the Syrian military, Iranian and Iraqi Shi’ite fighters have evolved into “a very well-integrated fighting force” that can coordinate, plan and deploy efficiently. “This is a huge innovation that has come out of the conflict in Syria,” she told a briefing on the report last week.
Before al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the United States in 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other terrorist group, U.S. Treasury Department officials told a 2012 press briefing.
Hezbollah started carrying out bombings and kidnappings in Lebanon but quickly expanded its violent campaign to a global stage, carrying out and supporting terrorist attacks in South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and various countries in the Middle East.
U.N. Troops to C.A.R.
The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday (April 10) to send 12,000 troops to quel violence and resore order in the strife-torn Central African Republic (C.A.R.).
Thousands have been killed and more than a million people are in need of aid following an explosion of sectarian violence after Muslim-led , Seleka rebels seized power a year ago and overthrew the government of President Francois Bozize – who had been in power for a decade. In a backlash, predominantly Christian anti-balaka militia members targeted Muslim civilians for revenge and attacked positions held by the mainly Muslim rebels.
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-Moon has warned of “ethno-religious cleansing” in C.A.R., with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence going unpublished, the BBC reported. The C.A.R. Is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but most people remain poor after decades of unrest and government mismanagement.
The U.N. Force will take over on September 15 from the 6,000-strong African-led peacekeeping mission. The Africans and about 2,000 French troops have been hard-pressed to halt the killing in the former French colony, according to the Voice of America.
The African troops will continue their military activities in the lead-up to the official transfer date in September. After being vetted, VOA reported, many of those troops will also be kep on as blue-helmeted U.N. Peacekeepers and join the new U.N. Mission, which will go by the acronym, MINUSCA.
*** *** ***
The government of the West African nation of Cameroon has announced it will mount a special polio Vaccin campaign for all children after haf a dozen cases were identified. There are fears that children fleeing dangerous situations – such as terrorist violence in Nigeria – are spreading the disease, according to the Voice of America website.
Nigeria is one of a few nations around the world which have not eradicated polio.
Cameroon’s Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda said officials in his country thought they could declare the Cameroon polio free, but they detected four cases of the wild polio virus in the western part of the country. Three other cases were also identifed – indicating virus is spreading.
Some of the cases were reported in children fleeing northeast Nigeria – where Boko Haram Islamic militants have been committing random acts of violence.
*** *** ***
Meanwhile at least three West African countries are reporting cases of the deadly ebola virus.
Guinea has reported 157 ebola cases, with 101 leading to death. Almost half of the 21 cases reported in Liberia have proven fatal. In Mali, nine suspected cases have been reported. Both Liberia and Mali share a border with Guinea.
A World health Organization official said the U.N. Agency expects ebola will engage its staff for months, according to the euronews website.“”This is one of the most challenging outbreaks that we have ever faced,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the WHO. And that’s because “we see a wide geographic dispersion of cases. So this has come in from a number of districts as well as a large city in Guinea, Conakry,” the capital, Fukuda added.
Share the Road
In this photo, a Norwegian Leopard 2 tank from the Telemark Battalion, prepares for battle on the busiest main road in North Norway.
Military exercises are normally conducted inside a restricted area far from populated areas. But during Exercise Cold Response, which recently concluded in Norway, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from 16 nations drove, marched and flew over two counties in the northern part of the country. The 16-day exercise’s area of operations included several towns and villages.
According to the Norwegian Defense Force, the folks of Nordland and Troms counties near the Arctic Circle, have no problem sharing their roads with the military visitors – in fact they welcome the “invasion” of foreigners. Military Police from eight nations helped the Norwegians maintain road safety and kept the Volvos and Saabs separated from the armored vehicles during the sprawling exercise.
Cold Response, which tests the operational ability of participating forces in extreme winter weather conditions, takes place in a geographic area about the size of Belgium. Norwegian troops have been doing this for years and say it prepares them for a rigorous arctic experience.
Click here to see the Swedish Defence Forces Cold Response website (in Swedish, but cool photos).
NOTE: Because the 4GWAR editor will be flying late Thursday/early Friday we are posting this week’s FRIDAY FOTO early.
No “Failure to Communicate”
U.S. Special Operations Forces (Army Green Berets, Navy SEALS, etc.) are going to be doing a lot more of this in the future: training troops in friendly nations to handle their own internal defense against terrorists and insurgents. U.S. Special Operations Command intends to align special operators regionally with the geographic combatant commands, like Southern Command or Africa Command.
To be effective, they’ll have to concentrate on learning the culture, geography, economics — and languages — of those regions.
However, with the exception of the Green Berets — who have been doing just that since Vietnam — most special operators aren’t skilled in foreign languages, especially exotic tongues like Hausa, Kurdish or Tausug. Your 4GWAR editor’s story on technologies that can help bridge that gap appears in April’s Special Operations Technology magazine.
Hunt for a Warlord
The Obama administration is sending military aircraft and support personnel to assist the efforts of African Union troops to hunt down renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his vicious rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
At a press briefing Monday (March 24) the Pentagon’s press secretary confirmed the Defense Department was deploying four CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as two C-130 Hercules transport planes and a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker to northern Uganda to aid the counter-LRA effort and “specifically to support the air transport requirements of the African Union Regional Task Force.”
The spokesman, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the aircraft along with 150 aircrew and support personnel will be conducting periodic deployments to Uganda to support the counter-LRA effort. All the aircraft and personnel are based in the East African nation of Djibouti, home to the only fixed U.S. military base in Africa.
They join about 100 U.S. Special Operations troops that have been posted in Central Africa since October 2011 to advise African militaries pursuing senior LRA commanders and protecting civilians. The aircraft deployment was first reported by the Washington Post.
Kony, who is being sought by the United Nations on human rights violation charges, has been leading the LRA on a rampage of pillage, rape, murder and kidnapping across Central Africa for decades, according to the U.S. State Department. U.S. strategy in the area has been to help the governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and South Sudan as well as the African Union and the United Nations “end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the LRA.” In addition to military advisers and air transportation, since 2010, the United States has provided $87.2 million to support food assistance, humanitarian protection and other relied activities in areas affected by the LRA.
*** *** ***
The death toll in Guinea from a rare Ebola virus outbreak has risen to 63, according to health officials in the West African nation. International aid workers have set up quarantine centers in the country’s south to isolate patients with the deadly and highly infectious disease, the Associated Press reported.
United Nations agencies and medical charities such as Doctors Without Borders are scrambling to help Guinea – one of the world’s poorest countries – to cope with the virus, amid fears that it could spill over borders into neighboring countries, according to Reuters. Five deaths from the suspected infection were reported in Liberia, which borders southeastern Guinea. And in neighboring Sierra Leone officials said two deaths are suspected to be linked to Ebola.
Ebola is one of a handful of diseases so deadly and contagious that they pose a risk to national security, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bloomberg reported. The CDC lists Ebola as a Category A bioterrorism agent, along with anthrax and smallpox. The virus identified as the one causing the Guinea outbreak is known as the Zaire strain, the most common and the most deadly variety.
There is no known cure or vaccine for the hemorrhagic fever which is spread by close personal contact with people who are infected. The disease killed between 25 and 90 percent of its victims. Symptoms include internal and external bleeding, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the BBC.
*** *** ***
Pirate Activities Shifting
While pirate activities have dwindled off the Horn of Africa there are concerns about an increase in illegal activity in the waters of West Africa.
In its latest ‘Piracy Analysis and Warning Weekly Report,” the Office of Naval Intelligence OPINTEL report lists two kidnappings from tugboats off the coast of Nigeria, but zero incidents off the Horn of Africa, according to MarineLink.com
But officials in Ghana are becoming increasingly concerned about piracy off their coast. At a three-day conference on coastal and maritime surveillance in Accra last week, a Ghana Navy official said that while Ghana’s waters were spared pirate activities, there were 50 incidents of ship hijackings in West African waters in 2013.
Captain Issah Yakubu, the director of Naval Administration, said the incidents included ships being taken hostage, their cargo stolen, the crew molested, sometimes even killed. “Fortunately we (Ghana) haven’t suffered any of these insecurities, but then we are not complacent,” he told the Ghana website myjoyonline.com.
Yakubu said security chiefs in the countries around the Gulf of Guinea are also concerned about drug trafficking, citing a recent seizure of a ship carrying 400 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Ghana’s waters, the website noted.
We don’t see photos of Special Operations Forces in combat very often but here’s one from the Defense Department.
It shows a U.S. Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) firing a Carl Gustav recoilless rifle system after receiving small-arms fire during a clearance operation at the village of Denasaro Kelay, in the Mizan district of Afghanistan’s Zabul province on March 8. The Afghans’ 3rd Special Operations Kandak (battalion), assisted by the Green Berets, conducted the clearance to disrupt insurgent movement in the area.
The soldier in the photo is assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. To see more photos of how the operation went, click here.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Maglott fires a 9mm Berretta pistol while competing in the Army Reserve Medical Command’s 2014 Best Warrior Competition at Fort Harrison, Montana.
All 13 competitors in the week-long competition wore satellite-linked safety beacons that detected if they were stationary for more than 10 minutes. The 13 represented five brigades of the Army Reserve Medical Command. The competitors, including one female soldier, Army Specialist Mai Quyen Thi Dang, made an air assault landing from a CH-47 Chinook and then began a four-mile ruck march through the mountainous terrain. There were also physical fitness tests, day land navigation, urban orienteering courses, road marches, tactical combat casualty care and a written essay. The temperature stood at 15 degrees during the competition.
To see a slideshow of the event click here.
By the Numbers UPDATE
UPDATES with new spending numbers and McRaven testimony
The Defense Department budget request for fiscal year 2015 (October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015) seeks $7.7 billion for U.S. Special Operations Command, including $1.52 billion for procuring weapons, equipment and supplies.
That procurement figure includes $112.2 million for rotary wing upgrades and sustainment, $25.6 million for modifications to CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft, $25.5 million for underwater systems, $144.3 million for ordnance, $81 million for communications equipment and electronics, $63 million for tactical ground vehicles and $38 million for “global video surveillance activities.”
The total defense budget request – capped at $496 billion by a congressional budget deal in December – is actually $495.6 billion. But the Pentagon has yet to specify what it will seek for what is known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO, for short) to pay for the war in Afghanistan and unforseen costs like disaster relief missions after earthquakes and typhoons.
But the Obama administration is seeking an additional $26.4 billion in defense funding from Congress through what it terms the Opportunity, Growth and Security initiative (OGS). The White House claims there will be mandatory spending cuts and tax loophole closings to offset the additional spending. The administration’s budget documents maintain OGS will be “fully paid-for,” but many critics are skeptical.
With that extra money, the Pentagon has laid out what it would be used for, including: $300 million for an increase at SOCOM in training, readiness and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); $100 million for SOCOM recapitalizing command, control, communications, computers and intelligence activities.
Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that they were willing to cut other parts of the military – including weapons programs and the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps – to protect “key capability areas” like special operations and counter terrorism from the budget ax.
Unlike the rest of the military, Special Operations Command won’t be seeing a reduction in its current force of approximately 66,000 in fiscal 2015. In fact, the Pentagon is seeking to add 3,700 personnel. That’s still below the 72,000 end strength planned just a few years ago, but Admiral William McRaven, the SOCOM commander, told the emerging threats panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee this week (March 11) the lower number will mean “we’ll have to prioritize our efforts globally.”
Noting that SOCOM has about 7,000 people deployed in 84 countries now, McRaven said the challenge would be “making sure we can continue to meet priority demands globally,” which he said he could do with 69,700 instead of 72,000.
Looking for Answers
UPDATES with U.S. military’s participation in the search, adds photos, video link.
There are more questions than answers in the continuing mystery of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER which disappeared last Saturday (March 8).
While we at 4GWAR are not going to report every new development – there are many rumors and far too much speculation flying around the Internet – we will note significant updates as they occur.
It turns out that the two people on board Flight MH370 travelling with stolen passports were identified as Iranian men, but INTERPOL, the international police agency, says there is nothing to indicate either man was involved in a terrorist plot. Nevertheless, the revelation that these two were able to fly with stolen travel documents exposed a major gap in airline security and is expected to goad more nations into checking the INTERPOL database of stolen passports and travel documents before allowing passengers to board. Last year, INTERPOL, officials said, one billion travelers were able to board flights without having their passports checked against the database.
Military aircraft and naval vessels from at least eight nations — including the U.S.Navy (see below) — have joined the search in and around the South China Sea. So far, no debris or wreckage has been spotted. Confusing and contradictory information from Malaysian authorities about what they know has angered the families of missing passengers and frustrated the Chinese government among others.
Malaysian authorities say the missing plane and its 239 passengers and crew may have flown hundreds of miles west of its scheduled flight plan after it disappeared from local radar. And a Chinese government agency said one of its satellites may have spotted the missing plane’s wreckage.
The USS Pinckney and USS Kidd – both Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with the U.S. Seventh Fleet — are on station in the Gulf of Thailand conducting search-and-rescue operations, the Pentagon said Monday (May 10).
Two Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopters are flying off the ships to aid the search, using forward-looking infrared pods to search at night. A P-3 Orion from Kadena Air Base, Japan, is also being employed in the search. The Orion brings long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts. It can loiter in the search area for about nine hours at a time.
Additionally, the USNS John Ericsson, an oiler, is providing logistical support. The American ships are working with ships from Malaysia, China and Singapore in the search effort.
To see more photos, click here.
To view a video report from The Pentagon Channel, click here.