Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’
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.
Bombs, James Bombs.
Reading a 50-year-old paperback spy novel, purchased for half a buck at the local library’s used book shelf, we were struck by the prophetic nature of the following passage about two NATO nuclear bombs held for ransom by terrorists.
Bond reached in his pocket for another cigarette. It couldn’t be, yet it was so. Just what his Service and all the other intelligence services in the world had been expecting to happen. The anonymous little man in the raincoat with a heavy suitcase–or golf bag, if you like. The left luggage office, the parked car, the clump of bushes in a park in the center of a big town. And there was no answer to it. In a few years’ time, if the experts were right, there would be even less answer to it. Every tin-pot little nation would be making atomic bombs in its backyards, so to speak. Apparently there was no secret now about the things. It had only been the prototypes that had been difficult–like the first gunpowder weapons for instance, or machine guns or tanks. Today these were everybody’s bows and arrows. Tomorrow, or the day after, the bows and arrows would be atomic bombs. And this was the first blackmail case … if they couldn’t be stopped in time, there would be nothing for it but to pay up.
In a world where China, India, Pakistan and North Korea all have nuclear weapons, terrorists turn jetliners into weapons of mass destruction and the biggest threats come, not from rival nations, but non-state actors, loosely organized international organizations like al Qaeda, Fleming’s fantasy threat seems oddly prophetic. His words leave us with something to ponder in our time. They give us some food for thought.
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Deja vu all over again
Back in February, 4GWAR reported that new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was troubled by foreign jihadists streaming into war-torn Syria, which was turning into an incubator for future terrorists.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, Johnson said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had become “very focused” on foreign fighters heading to Syria, where foreign Islamists have radicalized and complicated the three-year civil war with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The DHS concern is what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries or travel elsewhere, indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.
Then in April we reported on another threat emanating from Syria: the rise of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia as a military force in Syria. In a report, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), another Washington think tank, said 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.
Now this: President Barrack Obama says he is sending up to 300 special operations forces to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, where forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured several cities in northern and western Iraq in a sweeping attack out of Syria.
But Obama made clear that he will hold back more substantial support for Iraq – including U.S. Airstrikes – until he sees a direct threat to U.S. Personnel or a more inclusive and capable Iraqi government, according to the Washington Post.
At the White House, Obama said “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”
Obama, who withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, said he’s positioned “additional U.S. military assets in the region. Because of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL. And going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.”
But Obama emphasized “that the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces, like Iraqis, take the lead.”
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 II
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 other Special Operations Forces explained what they need to operate in vastly different environments. Today we focus on another of the three world regions the 4GWAR Blog follows closely: Central and South America.
In some ways, the special operators of U.S. Southern Command (SOCSOUTH) have it easy. Most people in Latin America speak one of two languages: Spanish or Portuguese, although there are 31 countries and numerous cultures from the Andes to the Pampas. (French is spoken in Haiti and several current and former French territories like Guiana.)
But South and Central America is another vast area with climates ranging from bone dry desert, ice covered mountains and equatorial jungles to teeming cities. Four of the world’s top 25 cities by population are in Southern Command’s area of responsibility. Two of them, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are in Brazil.
While most of the region’s countries are democracies and the region’s economy is booming – like Africa’s — there is “a technology gap” between U.S. forces and partner nations who don’t have the air or computer power of their neighbors to the north, according to SOCSOUTH commander, Army Brigadier General Sean Mulholland. But Mullholland notes there is no silver bullet solution. “In SOUTHCOM, we need workable solutions,” he said, adding that solutions must be simple enough to work for foreign partners while being interoperable with existing U.S. systems. “In essence, in SOUTHCOM we are always looking for the next AK-47,” he said referring to the Soviet designed automatic assault rifle that has been manufactured and sold all over the world.
The region is plagued with landmines from past wars and insurgencies – especially in Colombia, which has the second highest land mine problem in the world after Afghanistan. Other technology priorities include riverine patrol boats, persistent intelligence, surviellance and reconnaissance (ISR) through manned surveillance aircraft or drones. And non-lethal technology to deal with the speed boats and semi-submersible drug smuggling vessels that ply the Atlantic and Pacifc coasts of South and Central America. “We have a very serious problem in SOUTHCOM with the rise in drug trafficking,” Mullholland says. While U.S. ground troops can only advise Latin American militaries in counter narcotics operations, U.S. air and naval assets help in tracking and intercepting drug dealers at sea.
TOMORROW: The Arctic
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