Posts tagged ‘drug smuggling’
Colombia is back in the news.
Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he is going to visit Colombia during a Latin America trip later this month. The trip, which is slated to begin the week of May 26, will include visits to Brazil and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
“In Colombia, the vice president will meet with President [Juan Manuel] Santos to build on security relations and focus on ways to further the prosperity of our two countries,” the White House announced.
It was the latest development in the increasing cooperation between the United States and Colombia.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Colombian counterpart – Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon – to discuss the security partnership between the two countries. Speaking later at the National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Pinzon said ““Today, the average Colombian citizen lists street crime as a greater threat than terrorism.” Pinzón said, noting how far Colombia has come from the height of its nearly 50-year Marxist insurgency, when more than four terrorist attacks a day occurred.
For the last two decades the insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym FARC, has been fueled by narcotics trafficking, according to the CIA.
At the height of the insurgency, 20-30 years ago, Colombia was “nearly a failed state,” Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly told a recent conference on transnational organized crime. But in the years since, said Kelly – the head of U.S. Southern Command – Colombia has done a “tremendous job” battling both the FARC and narcotics cartels — while reforming its military and legal system. “And they’ve done this almost entirely by themselves,” with relatively limited military assistance from the United States, Kelly said. “Once they stick a fork in the FARC, they’ll be even more effective in taking cocaine off the market,” Kelly told the gathering in Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
At an earlier IDGA conference on countering-improvised explosives devices, one speaker was a Colombian Army officer who described the skill in dealing with booby traps and roadside bombs that his military has developed during almost 50 years battling a Marxist insurgency. Colombia is considered second only to Afghanistan for the number IED attacks within its borders.
Meanwhile, a panel of Latin American experts on Colombia’s counter insurgency opined that the “military-centered approach has been good but not sufficient enough” to deal with problems within its borders and across the region. In a March panel discussion at George Washington University, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Strategic Studies Institute and the National Defense University, cited the need for politicians and bureaucrats to show a governmental presence in rural areas once controlled by the rebels, the need for the military to coordinate operations with analysis of how FARC had changed tactics and areas of operation; and provide security and stability while dealing with new types of battlefields. Here’s a Synopsis
Big Boat, With Friend
The High-Speed Vessel Swift (HSV-2) got underway in Key West, Florida recently (April 24) with a tethered Aerostat balloon. The crew of the Swift will conduct a series of capabilities tests to determine if the aerostat, TIF-25K — a lighter than air unmanned air vehicle– could participate in U.S. Southern Command’s Operation Martillo.
Aerostats are like blimps but instead of cruising in the air, they are tethered to one spot. They can be used for persistent coastal surveillance when equipped with up to 420 pounds of sensors and other surveillance equipment.
That is a joint, interagency and multinational effort to block transnational criminal organizations from using air or maritime access to the littoral (coastal) regions of the Central America.
Organized Crime Spreads
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) accepts the fact that he’ll be dealing with continued budget cuts into the forseeable future, but U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly says if he only had “13 or 14″ Coast Guard or Navy vessels to station off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central America, he could dramatically reduce the cocaine traffic coming into the United States.
Kelly, who took over as head of SOUTHCOM last Fall, says the key to hurting the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is interdiction at sea — before the drugs make it ashore. At a conference on countering transnational organized crime, Kelly discussed the network running up from South America through Mexico that brings cocaine, heroin, illegal immigrants and enslaved sex workers into the United States.
He also talked about a surprising Central American ally in the war on drugs. To read more of this story go to Seapower magazine’s website.
Transnational Crime in Africa, Latin America
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – 4GWAR has reported in the past on how Latin American drug cartels are using countries in West Africa as transit points for drugs heading to Europe and points East. Now we learn from a federal official that small arms – particularly shotguns and shotgun shells – have become an illicit trading commodity in West Africa.
Many countries in West Africa have porous borders, weak law enforcement agencies or grinding poverty that makes government officials susceptible to bribes and corruption – and attractive for arms and drug smugglers. Officials in Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sierra Leone have been implicated in drug trafficking in recent years, according to a United Nations report. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be virtually under the control of narco cartels.
Kevin O’Keefe, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division at the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) told a conference on transnational organized crime this week that the low tech, low maintenance weapons like shotguns are being shipped illegally to places like Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. They are sought, not for military or terrorist use, but as a commodity to be bought and sold on the black market.
Shotguns are “not readily available in those countries, so anything you bring over, you’re going to make a profit on,” O’Keefe told 4GWAR after his presentation at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
“Nobody’s going to overthrow a country or command any big presence with shotguns,” O’Keefe said, “but we find 12-gauge shotguns being regularly trafficked back there because they’re easy to move and if you pay a couple hundred dollars here, there’s a big profit margin once you sell them in these countries.”
At the same conference, the head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said drugs like cocaine were being shipped from several South American countries – including Brazil – to West Africa. But Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who oversees U.S. Military interests in all of Central and South America – except Mexico – noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police operations in the region were helping in the war on drugs. The Brazilian Navy has taken it upon itself to patrol the South Atlantic looking for pirates and other criminal activities in the waters off West Africa, he noted.
“Brazil is oriented toward Africa,” said Kelly, noting it shares a common language – Portuguese – with several African nations that were once Portuguese colonies. “Brazil is starting to step out and wants to become a world power,” Kelly said, adding that it is concerned about piracy and sees counter-piracy as a “niche” operation it can perform. He noted that a Brazilian naval officer has served with the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Brazil’s Navy has also participated in patrol operations with the U.S. Navy off West Africa, he said.
In the days since the March 5 death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, security analysts have speculated on whether regime change in Caracas will have any effect on transnational narcotics cartels operating in Latin America.
Since 1999, when Chavez began his 14-year rule, Venezuela has been considered a major hub for the shipment of illegal narcotics from neighboring Colombia to the United States and Europe. The U.S. Treasury Department has added several high-level Venezuelan military and intelligence officials to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin list, for alleged “material assistance” to the Colombian rebel group known as FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which Washington has labeled a “narco-terrorist organization.”
In the last decade, the battle against transnational criminal organizations has stretched from Central and South America across the Atlantic to West Africa and beyond. Officials say drug trafficking is destablizing, promotes corruption and other illegal activity including human trafficking and piracy. Increasingly, U.S. and other militaries are helping local and national law enforcement agencies with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to battle criminal cartels.
By law, the U.S. Defense Department is the lead agency for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs, although federal law also limits the military’s assistance in U.S. territory to civil support. However, the Coast Guard, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, has dual military and law enforcement authority.
But as authorities increase pressure on them in the Western Hemisphere, narco-cartels have been turning to Africa, especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa, to use as transit points for Europe-bound illicit drug shipments.
A United Nations report released Feb. 25 listed the growing influence of narco-cartels both foreign and home-grown in West Africa. Cocaine trafficking remains the most lucrative criminal activity of international groups operating in the region, but one “worrying development” is the emergence of methamphetamine production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The report also discussed human trafficking between West Africa and Europe and arms trafficking across Africa.
Top government officials from the United States and other countries are slated to discuss the toll of trafficking in drugs, guns and humans at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Va. next month. To read the whole story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement site (http://www.idga.org) or click here.
Fierce fighting continues in northern Mali as French troops and their allies from Mali and Chad battle to clear violent Islamist extremists from mountain strongholds.French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today (Feb. 26) that the fighting in the Ifoghas region – near the Algerian border – is targeting an area where the “most radical terrorist groups” have gone, according to the Voice of America.
Because of that, Le Drian says says it’s too soon to talk about withdrawing troops from the former French colony in West Africa, although costs of the nearly two-month intervention are growing.
The defense minister told France’s RTL radio that the French intervention in Mali has cost more than €100 million ($133 million), the Associated Press reported.France began airstrikes Jan. 11 against insurgents that have seized control of almost half of Mali and were threatening Bamako, Mali’s capital. There are now about 4,000 French troops in Mali and Paris has said it wanted to pull them out as soon as the threat diminished — perhaps as soon as March.
Late last week, officials in Chad announced 13 of their soldiers had been killed and five wounded in fighting with the militants in northern Mali. Officials said 65 insurgents were also killed.
To see some striking Aljazeera photos of the fighting and its aftermath in the northern Mali town of Gao, click here.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Charles Koffy Diby says it will cost more than 700 million euros to pay for a multi-national West African military force to replace the French in Mali. The military option was approved in December by the United Nations Security Council and organized by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Mali and Ivory Coast.
The peacekeeping force is supposed to consist of 6,000 troops from ECOWAS countries and another 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member but borders Mali. More than 1,000 Chadian troops are already on the ground in Mali, as are contingents from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal.
According to the South African Press Association, Diby, whose country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship this year, estimated it would cost 715 million euros – more than twice the amount pledged by donor nations in January. Diby said the sum he had in mind took into account “the demands of an asymetrical war or a drawn-out conflict that the narco-terrorists … could bring about.”
Transnational Crime Threat
A United Nations report released today (Feb. 25) warns that the production of methamphetamine is on the rise in West Africa.
While cocaine trafficking is the most lucrative criminal activity of transnational crime groups operating in the region, one “worrying development” is the emergence of meth production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The main market for West African-produced meth is East Asia, although it is also going to South Africa. Income from West African-made meth “is remarkably high” for a product that’s new to the market, the report said, adding that competition from drug rings in East Asia is likely to cut into those profits in coming years.
Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says meth is an attractive product for West African criminals because it is easy to make, the Voice of America reported. “You can do that in your kitchen, if you wish,” he said, adding: “You go on the internet, you get the recipe and you cook.”
Although the flow of cocaine out of West Africa peaked at 47 tons in 2007, officials believe cocaine trafficking is back up to 30 to 35 tons a year.
Much of that cocaine comes from Brazil where Nigerian crime groups are exporting the drug. the report said, adding that those crime groups have been using containerized consignments and maritime shipping to smuggle the drugs. The small country of Benin on the West Coast of Africa is seeing more use as a departure point for air couriers headed for Europe, the report said.
The report also noted that while human trafficking between West Africa and Europe had declined in recent years, there are still problems with pirates off the coasts of Nigeria and Benin as well as trafficking in firearms and fraudulent medicines.
“The recent flood of 10,000 to 20,000 firearms from Libya does represent a serious threat to stability in the region, a threat that appears to have been realized in northern Mali,” the report said.
Brazil: May Buy Russian Air Defense System
Brazil’s Defense Ministry says it will recommend that the government buy anti-aircraft and air defense systems from Russia, Reuters reports. According to a statement on its website, the Defense Ministry said it would present a proposal to President Dilma Rouseff for her approval.
Gen. Jose Carlos De Nardi, chief of staff of Brazil’s Armed Forces, said Brazil is interested inacquiring three batteries of medium level Pantsir-S1 missiles and two batteries of Igla missiles.
According to Pravda, De Nardi headed a Brazilian delegation that visited Russia last month to discuss the arms purchase. The deal is expected to be signed later this month when Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits Brazil. Part of the deal would be a technology transfer allowing Brazil to make and sell the missile systems in Latin America.
And the Moscow Times reports that Medvedev’s deputy, Dmitry Rogozin, says Russia would be interested in starting a long-term military partnership with Brazil.
We told you last month that Brazil, the world’s 6th largest economy has been building up its military capabilities as part of a defense strategy to safeguard its borders, offshore oil fields and the Amazon basin from foreign intrusion. That buildup has drawn several foreign defense contractors like France’s DCNS, America’s Boeing and Sweden’s Saab to bid for Bazil’s business.
Colombia: FARC Rebels Propose Legalizing Coca, Marijuana Crops
The rebel group that has been waging war against Colombia’s government since the 1960s has come up with a novel idea for land reform: legalizing some of the cash crops that can be turned into illegal narcotics, the BBC reports.
The guerrillas’ proposal came during ongoing peace talks in Cuba with the Colombian government. The chief negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the acronym FARC, said legalization of drug crops like poppy, coca and marijuana should be considered for therapeutic, industrial or cultural reasons. Land reform and ending drug trafficking have been two key topics at the negotiations
Chile: Not Exactly a Sea Chanty
Embarrassed officials in Chile are promising a swift investigation into a viral video showing Chilean naval cadets chanting they will kill opponents in three neighboring nations — they are not at war with.
According to CNN, the video shows the cadets repeating the cadence of their instructor: “Argentineans I will kill; Bolivians I will shoot; Peruvians I’ll behead” as they run through the streets. Historically, Chile has had prickly relationships with its neighbors — like Bolivia whose seacoast Chile seized in a 19th Century war, the BBC reported.
Click on all of the maps to enlarge the image.
More unrest in Mali. Earlier this week an angry mob stormed the presidential palace and attacked the interim president.
Interim President Dioncounda Traore suffered a head wound after Monday’s attack by protesters, the Associated Press reported. He was treated and released from a hospital a few hours later.
Now the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is threatening to impose sanctions on those responsible.
The political situation has been chaotic in the largely desert northwest African nation since a military coup on March 21 when the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was forced from office. Soldiers blamed him for botching the response to a rebellion by Tuaregs in the north.
Rebels swept over the northern half of the country after the coup. A number of militant Islamists followed in their wake sparking the imposition of strict Muslim sharia law in some areas.
War on Drugs
The use of West Africa as a staging point for the shipment of narcotics to Europe by international drug cartels is getting more attention from U.S. And international organizations.
Officials in the Cape Verde islands seized 1.5 metric tons of cocaine with assistance of the new Counter narcotics and Maritime Interagency Operations Center there that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) helped to support.
AFRICOM is also collaborating with the U.S. State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency to help Ghana establish a specialized counter drug unit.
In testimony before a Senate panel May 16, William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter narcotics and global threats, said the drug cartels, increasingly under the gun in the Western Hemisphere, are turning to Africa – especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa.
“As they target the lucrative and growing European market for cocaine,” he said, “we are also concerned about trafficking of southwest Asian heroin, as well as other drugs, such as khat.”
Restoring the Rule of Law
One of the countries said to be most penetrated by Latin American drug lords in Guinea-Bissau, which also saw its government overthrown by an April military coup.
Now the military junta says it is handing back power to a civilian regime, the BBC reports, but foreign observers are skeptical.
ECOWAS brokered a deal with the junta to organize elections in a year. Meanwhile more than 600 peacekeeping troops are to be stationed in the former Portuguese colony – .about 70 soldiers from Burkina Faso have arrived so far.
High Tech Response
Two of the U.S. Navy’s top research labs are teaming with scientists in Chile to develop widget – or web-based applications – to help police the world’s oceans and combat piracy.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific have formed a research alliance – the International Collaborative Development for Enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness – to build the widgets that will analyze data and other information for sailors and maritime interests to combat pirates, drug smugglers, arms traffickers and other criminals on the high seas.
ONR will be working with researchers at the Technical University Federico Santa Maria, a top engineering school in Chile, to create web-based tools in an open source environment. The focus will be on software to improve automation, small-target detection and intent detection.
Ultimately, the software will be compatible with multiple maritime network systems so that navies around the world can use the tools and share information. John Stasny, an engineer in SPAWAR’s advanced systems analysis systems branch at Systems Center Pacific, says the plan calls for integrating the software tools into a widget framework accessible to coalition partners at a web portal.
The project with Chile is part of a larger collaboration that includes researchers at the University of Ghana, the University of Pretoria, the University of Mauritius and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.
Representatives of a West African trade bloc have slapped economic and diplomatic sanctions on the nation of Guinea-Bissau after negotiations failed in an attempt to restore the previous leadership overthrown by an April 12 military coup.
The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed the sanctions Tuesday (May 1) after talks in neighboring Gambia with coup representatives failed to end the crisis. The sanctions target the leaders of the military junta that seized power and its supporters, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities have been concerned that Latin American narcotics gangs have turned Guinea Bissau into a trans-shipment point for drugs bound for Europe.
Guinea-Bissau, a small former Portuguese colony, was just weeks away from a presidential run-off election when troops revolted and seized interim President Raimundo Pereira and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. Gomes was the front runner in the anticipated runoff – before the coup. Both men were later released and both have left the country for Ivory Coast, Reuters reported.
The situation in the north West African nation of Mali just seems to get more confused every day. First Tuareg tribesmen, equipped with heavy weapons they took from Libya when Muammar Qaddafi’s regime collapsed, revolted for the umpteenth time seeking an independent homeland in the desert north.
Then government soldiers led a young Army captain ousted the sitting president in Bamako, the capital. The coup’s leaders said President Amadou Toumani Toure had botched the Tuareg insurgency – leading to the deaths of many government soldiers – and sized the state broadcast center, the presidential palace and several key positions..
The Tuaregs took advantage of the chaos in the wake of the March 22 Army coup and swept down from the desert capturing three key cities — including fabled Timbuktu — and about half the country’s northern territory. And some among the Tuaregs are seizing the moment to impose strict Muslim sharia law in their territory, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
The latest wrinkle: a counter coup by troops loyal to Toure, was apparently put down by the junta, although there was sporadic gunfire Monday (May 1), the New York Times reported.
Mali’s collapse into chaos is a bit of an embarrassment for the U.S. military, which has spent several years training the armed forces there to help battle Islamic extremist groups with ties of al Qaeda.
An anti-Western Islamic militant group is threatening news media outlets with more bombings like the one that killed four people at one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers: ThisDay.
A video, purportedly from the group Boko Haram, threatens the Voice of America and Radio France International as well as several Kenyan news outlets.
On Thursday (April 26) a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing himself, three passers-by and a security guard at ThisDay’s offices in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Four more people were killed in another bombing targeted to news media outlets the same day, AFP reported..
There have been a series of bombings around the country in recent days. Twenty-three people were killed in Islamist militant bombings at two churches in Maiduguri and Kano in the predominantly Muslim north.
On Monday (April 30) another suicide attack on a police official’s convoy in eastern Nigeria left 11 dead and 20 injured.