Posts tagged ‘Mali’
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.
Considering COCOM Consolidation
At the Aspen Security Forum in mid-July, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the recently retired head of U.S. Africa Command said he thought most countries in Africa had a more positive view of the regional command now than when it was created in 2007.
Since then, the military and civilian workers of AFRICOM “have done so much to diminish the fears and anxieties of many African countries,” Ham told your 4GWAR editor during a question & answer session at the four-day conference in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “We don’t go anywhere without the consent of the host nation government” and the consent of the U.S. ambassador to that nation, he added.
When then-President George W. Bush created the U.S. military’s sixth geographic combatant command there was a pretty large outcry in Africa that this was just another imperialistic move by a Western power seeking to grab all the oil, gold or other natural resources it could. Others saw it as an attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
As an example of the hostility to the concept of U.S. troops in Africa, only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, which still remains in Stuttgart, Germany. Many other African nations opposed having a U.S. military presence anywhere on the continent.
But Ham, who was AFRICOM’s second commander, said “many nations – not all – have found it to be in their best interests to have a military-to-military relationship with the U.S. through Africa Command.”
So we were a little surprised when reports began surfacing that AFRICOM might be folded into European Command or one of the other six regional combatant commands as a money-saving venture driven by the budget constraints of sequestration.
Defense News, a Gannett publication, reported August 12 that the Pentagon was considering “a major overhaul” of the commands that could include “dissolving Africa Command” and splitting its responsibilities between European Command, which is also headquartered in Stuttgart, and Central Command, based at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. AFRICOM is responsible for U.S. security, humanitarian and diplomatic operations in all of Africa’s 54 countries, except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.
As it says on its website, AFRICOM has four main roles in Africa: to deter and defeat transnational threats; prevent future conflicts; support humanitarian and disaster relief and protect U.S. security interests. AFRICOM has a very small permanent presence in Africa – a former Foreign Legion base in Djibouti where about 2,000 personnel are based and an airbase in Niger with a little over 100 personnel to support surveillance drones flying over northwest Africa where an affiliate of the al Qaeda terrorist network has been active. The bulk of AFRICOM’s small personnel force remains in Europe.
All of the services conduct training exercises with African militaries like Africa Lion and Flintlock. Other missions offer naval and police training as well as medical clinics, emergency response training and small construction projects.
“We didn’t really see ourselves as a fighting command,” Ham said at the Aspen event … until Libya happened.
AFRICOM found itself leading air and intelligence operations during the early days of the United Nations-sanctioned intervention in Libya’s revolt-turned civil war. AFRICOM also supplied military transport and air refueling assistance to French and African forces intervening earlier this year in the Islamist revolt in Mali. Later, AFRICOM reached an agreement with Niger to base unarmed surveillance drones there. AFRICOM has also played a role in battling pirates off the east and west coasts of Africa. And U.S. special operations forces conducted a hostage rescue mission in Somalia and provided assistance to African militaries hunting for renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.
That increasingly military role may have undercut AFRICOM’s original, largely non-miltary role in the eyes of some Africans, according to the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
But summing in up his answer in Aspen to 4GWAR’s query about whether Africa was now more accepting of AFRICOM, Ham said: “If the United States were to say ‘We’re interested in relocating the headquarters to the African continent. Would you be interested in hosting [it]?’ I think there are a number of nations that would say ‘Yes.’”
AFRICAN ELECTIONS 2013 -UPDATE- (Updates with Keita winning in Mali after opponent concedes.)
Voters in the war-ravaged West African nation of Mali went to the polls again Sunday (August 11, 2013) to pick a president in a run-off election between the top two vote getters in last month’s polling.
On Monday night (August 12) underdog candidate Soumaila Cisse conceded, handing the election to Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a former prime minister of Mali.
Cisse went to Keita’s house 24 hours after the polls closed, to concede defeat and wish him well. He made it official at a televised press conference today (August 13) where he said he was acting to avoid weakening the country or damaging national unity..
Unofficial results showed Keita with a strong lead. Cisse’s move was greeted with relief by many Malians traumatized by 18 months of violence and uncertainty brought on by a revolt in the north, a military coup in the capital and a counter insurgency intervention by French troops, according to the Voice of America.
Cisse urged Malians to accept the result even though he told reporters at the news conference that he believed there were serious irregularities and incidents of ballot-box stuffing, the Los Angeles Times reported. Cisse said he had not made plans to challenge the result.
The wide open field – 27 candidates – was winnowed down in the July 28 vote to just two contenders: Cisse, a former cabinet minister from Timbuktu and Keita, a one-time prime minister and former National Assembly president from the southern part of Mali.
Keita – widely known by his initials IBK – appears to be the frontrunner, according to the Voice of America. He led the first round with 39 percent of ballots and almost all of the other 26 first-round candidates backing him in the run-off, according to the Voice of America website.
Nearly 50 percent of Mali’s 6.8 million registered voters cast a ballot in first round election last month July. A lot is at stake in the election. The winner will oversee more than $4 billion in foreign aid promised by France and the United States to rebuild Mali, the BBC reported. Final tallies of the vote are not expected until Friday.
Mali, regarded as one of West Africa’s few successful democracies, plunged into chaos last year when Tuareg mercenaries – returning from fighting for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafy – launched the latest in a series of independence revolts in the country’s desert north. That led to a military coup in March 2012 that ousted the democratically-elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure.
The revolt in Bamako, the nation’s capital, emboldened the Tuaregs who swept over the Texas-sized northern half of the country – backed by Islamic extremists, many from outside of Mali. At the request of the government in Bamako, French air and ground forces intervened, driving the rebels back into the mountains before they could seize the capital. France, the former colonial ruler, said the intervention was necessary to keep the country from turning into a safe haven for terrorists to attack targets in Europe.
Meanwhile, a 12,600-strong United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma) is deploying to take over security, as France begins to withdraw its 3,000 troops.
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The ruling party in the small West African nation of Togo, has increased its majority in the national legislature following last month’s elections. And that has increased the control President Faure Gnassingbe holds over the country of six million.
Opposition activists say that the ruling Unir party’s 62-seat majority victory was the product of a rigged election. They worry that the party will use its majority to pass reforms allowing Gnassingbé – whose family has ruled tiny Togo since 1967 – to remain in office indefinitely, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Voters went to the polls July 28. About 1,200 candidates competed for 91 seats in the National Assembly.
The electoral commission said the Unir party won 62 of 91 seats, up from 50 of the legislature’s then-81 seats in 2007. There have been no elections to the National Assembly in the intervening six years.
One family has controlled the government since 1967 when Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema came to power through a coup and ruled for 38 years until his death in 2005. The military — dominated by the family’s Kabye ethnic group — picked his son, Faure Gnassingbe, to take over.
The opposition party leader, Gilchrist Olympio, is the son of Togo’s first post-independence president who was gunned down in 1963 by assassins outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital Lome.
Despite one family/one party rule all those years, politics in Togo is complicated according to an article in The Economist.
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When the votes were counted in Zimbabwe following last month’s presidential and legislative elections, one of the few people unsurprised by the outcome was President Robert Mugabe.
The 89-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, won a crushing 61 percent of the vote and his ZANU-PF Party took two-thirds of the seats in the Southeast African nation’s parliament.
But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Party has claimed massive fraud and has gone to court to overturn the election.
The size of Mugabe’s latest electoral victory raised eyebrows in Zimbabwe. In the first round of voting in the previous presidential election in 2008, he won fewer votes than Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC. But Mr. Tsvangirai refused to participate in a runoff because of violent state-sponsored attacks on his supporters, according to the New York Times. More than 200 people died in post election violence, with thousands more beaten and intimidated.
It is unclear when Mugabe will be sworn in for a new term. Under Zimbabwe’s constitution, once there is litigation,administering the oath of office is withheld until the case is finalized. The constitutional court has 14 days to dispose of the case, according to the Voice of America website. If the election is nullified, fresh polls will be called in 60 days. If the case is dismissed, Mugabe will be sworn in within 48 hours after the ruling.
Zimbabwe’s election is expected to dominate the meeting of Southern African leaders in Malawi next week, according to VoA. In 2008, African leaders refused to recognize the 2008 Mugabe victory and forced him and Tsvangirai to form a fragile power-sharing government with the MDC as the junior partner.
Turkish facility attacked
The Islamist militant group, al Shabaab, has claimed responsibility for a bombing at the Turkish Embassy compound in Somalia that killed at least five people including three suicide bombers, the Associated Press reports.
The Saturday (July 27) attack struck a building housing Turkish embassy staff in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. A Turkish security official and a Somali student were killed as well as the three militants, AP said. CNN International reports that a second Turkish security guard was dead.
Al Shabaab, which espouses an ultra strict form of Islam, has been linked to al Qaeda and other attacks in war-ravaged Somalia. Al Shebaab was driven out of Mogadishu two years ago by troops from Somalia and other African countries. But the militants have kept up guerrilla-style attacks and continue to control large rural areas of the East African country, according to Reuters.
Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, has been playing a big role in Somalia’s reconstruction, including street renovations and building new schools and hospitals, according to the AP and CNN.
AFRICAN ELECTIONS 2013
In the small West African nation of Togo, voters went to the polls Sunday (July 28) to elect their legislature. About 1,200 candidates competed for 91 seats in National Assembly.
The president of Togo’s electoral commission said late Sunday that provisional results show the ruling party increased its share of the legislature in the election — dealing a blow to opposition leaders who had hoped recent signs of discontent would translate into electoral gains, according to the Associated Press.
The electoral commission said the Union for the Republic party won 62 of 91 seats, up from 50 of the legislature’s then-81 seats in 2007.
There have been no elections to the National Assembly in the intervening six years, according to the Christian Science Monitor. And Sunday’s vote was seen as an important next step in the nation’s transition to full democracy.
One family has controlled the government since 1967 when Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema came to power through a coup and ruled for 38 years until his death in 2005. The military picked his son, Faure Gnassingbe, to rule the country of 7 million.
The opposition party leader, Gilchrist Olympio, is the son of Togo’s first post-independence president who was gunned down in 1963 by assassins outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital Lome.
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War-ravaged Mali in West Africa began electing a president Sunday (July 28). According to the Voice of America, there are 27 candidates ranging from several former prime ministers to a geologist with little political experience and a woman from the northern part of the country who stood up to Tuareg rebels and militant Islamists.
Mali, once one of West Africa’s few successful democracies, plunged into chaos when Tuareg mercenaries – returning from fighting for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafy – launched the latest in a series of revolts in the country’s desert north. That led to a military coup ousting the democratically-elected president.
The army revolt in Bamako, the nation’s capital emboldened the Tuaregs who swept over the Texas-sized northern half of the country – backed by Islamic extremists from in and out of Mali. At the request of the government in Bamako, French air and ground forces intervened, driving the rebels back into the mountains before they could seize the capital.
France, the former colonial ruler, said the intervention was necessary to keep the country from turning into a safe haven for terrorists to attack targets in Europe.
Mali has nearly 7 million registered voters but voter turnout has never exceeded 40 percent, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Security Council Votes
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today (April 25) to approve a peacekeeping mission to the war-wracked North African nation of Mali.
A force of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers could be deployed as soon as July, the New York Times reported. About 6,000 troops already deployed by member countries from the Economic Community of West African States — as well as about 1,000 French troops — are expected to form the base of the peacekeeping mission. France intervened in its former African colony in January when militant Islamic extremists and Tuareg separatists threatened Bamako, Mali’s capital.
For nifty interactive timeline by the Times chronicling the 16-month-old crisis in Mali, once one of the few working democracies in West Africa, click here.
Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president has launched the country’s reconciliation commission to deal with security and governance issues in the country’s north. But a Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, refuses to disarm before beginning negotiations with the Malian government, the Voice of America reports.
Nigeria: Business and Bullets
Nigeria’s National Economic Council has approved a $9 billion foreign loan to fund new infrastructure, invest in agriculture and create jobs, Bloomberg reports. The lenders include the Export-Import Bank of China, rthe Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Capital interest rates on the loan will be as low as 2 percent and Nigeria will have more than 40 years to repay.
Meanwhile violence has erupted again in the country’s north, according to the Voice of America. Nearly 200 people were killed last weekend in an attack by the militant Islamist group in the fishing town of Baga. But some analysts say many of the slain may actually have been killed by security forces.
In a report that echoes earlier ones by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government says indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are “a seroious human-rights problem” in Nigeria, VoA reported.
A series of suicide and bomb attacks ripped through Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, Sunday (April 14) striking a court complex and the outskirts of the city’s international airport. As many as 29 people were killed in at least two separate attacks, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported.
According to the BBC, the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab, said it carried out the attacks.
Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for a series of attacks in Mogadishu over the last two years. The group has been pushed out of most of the key towns it controlled in the southern part of the country after a stepped-up offensive by African Union peacekeepers allied with troops for Kenya and Ethiopia.
Quoting Somalia’s interior minister, the Associated Press reports that nine militants attacked Mogadishu’s Supreme Court complex and that all nine have been killed. Abdikarim Hussein Guled said that six of the attackers detonated suicide vests and three others were shot and killed during the assault, the AP added.
A car bomb was detonated later, outside a building housing security forces on the road to the airport. The blast went off near a convoy carrying Turkish aide workers, killing two of them, BBC reported.
Ghana Running Dry
Almost 40 percent of Ghana’s population lacks access to tap water, forcing the poor to pay high prices to private suppliers, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The West African nation’s booming economy is also being hurt by water shortages.
According to Bloomberg, water is one of the biggest issues facing Africa’s urban areas, which the United Nations says will see a 66 percent population increase – to 1.2 billion people by 2050.
Tuaregs Scout for French
Here’s a switch: Nomadic Tuaregs who stayed loyal to Mali’s government – during last year’s military coup, the Tuareg rebellion that sparked it and the violent Islamist insurgency that followed it – are now scouting for the French military.
They work as scouts for the French-led mission to purge Mali of its al-Qaeda-linked militants and return the country to government control, according to an AFP story in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.
Chad Withdrawing Troops
After helping drive Islamist insurgents from Mali’s northern towns, Chad intends to withdraw its troops from the embattled North African country because it doesn’t want to get bogged down in a guerilla war, according to Chad’s president, Reuters reports.
About 2,000 troops from Chad – like Mali a former French colony in northern Africa – fought alongside French troops in the heaviest fighting to drive the radical Islamists from remote towns as well as the deserts and mountains in Mali’s north.
But President Idriss Deby says “the Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy guerilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali. “Our soldiers will return to Chad,” he told French reporters, noting a mechanized battalion has already been withdrawn.
Desert Refugee Crisis
A report by the humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, says about 70,000 refugees who fled the violence in Mali are living in “appalling” conditions in a camp in the middle of neighboring Mauritania’s desert.
About 15,000 more refugees have flooded into the camp since the ench intervention in January and now conditions at the camp are so bad that many who were healthy became ill or malnourished after they arrived, CNN reports.
Troops Kill 14 Suspected Rebels
Nigeria says its troops have killed 14 suspected members of the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, during a raid in the northern city of Kano, the BBC reported Sunday (March 31).
At least on soldier was also killed in the assault in a building suspected of being a staging area for attacks on Christians over Easter in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram has been fighting to create an Islamic state.
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 3,000 people in attacks on churches, schools and government officies since 2009, according to the Voice of America. The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” in Nigeria’s Hausa language, has also attacked police, markets and newspapers offices. The group claimed credit for the kidnapping of a French family of tourists in neighboring Cameroon last month.
But human rights groups have accused Nigerian security forces of being trigger happy and killing hundreds of people during their operations against Boko Haram.
Insurgents Attack Timbuktu Again
Two months after French and Malian troops drove Islamist insurgents out of the ancient city of Timbuktu, the rebel fighters were back, attacking inside the city.
Officials said about five insurgents were killed in the attack which started as a suicide car bombing Saturday (March 30) at a security checkpoint, the New York Times reported.
A Malian soldier was also killed, the Voice of America reported. It is not known how many insurgents are still inside Timbuktu, which was occupied by the insurgents for severasl months after a military coup in southern Mali emboldened Tuareg separatists and Islamic terrorist groups to sweep down from the north and seize an area the size of Texas.
French aircraft and ground troops intervened in January — at the request of Mali’s president — to halt an insurgent advance threatening the capital, Bamako. Recently officials in Paris, who had wanted a quick-in-and-out operation, said at least 1,000 French troops were likely to be in Mali until year’s end. But that force would be about 3,000 less than the current French deployment of 4,000 troops.
Kenyan Election Certified
Kenya’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the recent presidential election was won (barely) by Uhuru Kenyatta fair and square, the Voice of America reported. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, won with just 50.7 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, challenged the polling in court.
Violence after the election has been limited compared to the disorder after a close election in 2007 — which Odinga also lost. More than 1,000 people were killed in clashes between rival political groups and security forces.
Complicating matters, however: Both Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, face trial at the International Criminal Court for their alleged roles orchestrating violence during that period.
Xi in Africa
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is in the middle of a four day tour of Africa – part of his first trip abroad as national leader.
Xi will be attending a two day conference of leaders of the so-called BRICS countries starting today (March 26). The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – form an economic bloc made up of many of the world’s leading emerging economies. But Xi is also trying to assure Africans that China interest in their continent isn’t just as a market for its manufactured goods and a source of the raw materials needed by its factories.
His first stop in Africa this week (March 24) was Tanzania. China has had a close relationship with the country since it gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Thousands of Chinese engineers and laborers built a railroad connecting Tanzania with Zambia in the ’60s and ’70s, according to Xinhua’s English.news.cn website.
At a conference center in Dar es Salaam built with Chinese assistance, Xi assured the audience and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete that China was interested in helping African nations develop their economies, pledging $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next two years. He also said China would train 30,000 African professionals, offer 18,000 scholarships to African students and “increase technology transfer and experience,” Reuters reported.
China’s trade with all African countries reached $198 billion in total value in 2012, an increase of 19.3 percent from 2011, according to Chinese customs statistics, the New York Times reported. Much of that trade consists of oil, minerals and other commodities from Angola, Nigeria and other resource-rich countries, the Times said.
After the two-day BRICS meeting Durban, South Africa, Xi will wind up his first foreign tour with a visit to the Republic of Congo (not be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo — formerly known as Zaire.)
At a Washington symposium on conservation and national security that your 4GWAR editor attended last week, a former Bush administration diplomat said China had made Africa “strategic.”
“I think that strategic engagement is going to translate into political influence and geo-strategic influence,” said Jendayi Frazer, the first woman appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “I think it will show up in things like the United Nations Security Council and how votes start to go in the U.N. General Assembly and other such venues,” she added.
But, “African citizens are becoming increasingly impatient with the flood of Chinese laborers” into their labor markets “and particularly, cheap goods and the supply chain” supporting Chinese traders in the African marketplace. “It’s a big problem,” she told the gathering, co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and Conservation International.
Frazer, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, noted however, that China’s “model of supporting business and their strategic outlook in Africa, is something we in the West should emulate. We should do a better job of helping our private sector” in Africa and other regions.
[You can see a video of Frazer and some of the other speakers at this symposium by clicking here. Your 4GWAR editor's question about AFRICOM is at 57 minutes and 55 seconds on the tape. Frazer's comments on China in Africa are at 1 hour, 3 minutes into the tape, followed by her comments on AFRICOM.]
Mali UpdateSix people – including one civilian – have been killed in fighting between Islamist rebels and French and Malian forces in the northern city of Gao (see map), according to Voice of America.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate has named a replacement for a key commander killed by Chadian soldiers in Mali’s northern mountains last month, according to an Algerian broadcaster, VOA reported. The new guy, Djamel Okacha – also known as Yahia Abu El Hamam – is slated to replace Abdelhamid Abou Zeid as a leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly known as AQIM, according to Algeria’s Ennahar TV.
U.S. VS. Ansar-al-DineOne of the violent radical Islamist groups at the center of the insurgency in northern Mali has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
In a statement released today (March 21) the State Department said Ansar-al-Dine was deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization under federal law and also a Global Terrorist entity under an executive order that targets terrorists and those providing them support.
Ansar-al-Dine was one of the Islamic extremist groups that hijacked a largely secular rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali’s desert north last year. The rebellion, the latest in a series of revolts since the 1960s by Tuaregs seeking autonomy from Mali’s government in Bamako, the capital, mushroomed after Malian army officers staged a coup on March 22. Ironically, the military coup arose from Army frustration with Mali’s democratically-elected government was mishandling the Tuareg revolt.
Taking advantage of the political chaos, the Tuaregs swept over nearly half the country, between January and April 2012, seizing control of an area the size of France, including the legendary city of Timbuktu. But hardline groups like Ansar-al-Dine, pushed the Tuareg leadership aside and imposed strict Islamic law in the captured region. Punishments included floggings, amputation of limbs and executions. Most music was forbidden and several historic tombs were destroyed.
Ansar-al-Dine cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, the State Department said. During Ansar-al-Dine’s March 2012 attack on the town of Aguelhok, the group executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more.
The request of Mali’s new government France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent troops and aircraft to halt an insurgent threat to Bamako in January. French troops aided by soldiers from Chad and other African nations have driven the insurgents back almost to the Algerian border.
AFRICOM VS. al Shebaab
Speaking of extremists, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says another violent Islamist group, al-Shabaab in East Africa has been “significantly weakened from a year ago.” Army Gen. Carter Ham told the House Armed Services Committee last week (March 15) that AFRICOM was assisting partner nations battle three other violent groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Ham noted that while there’s been good progress against al-Shabaab by the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia as well as Ethiopian and Somali forces, the group is still dangerous and capable of unconventional attacks to disrupt AMISOM operations as well as the new Somali government.
Asked if he had enough resoures to battle AQIM, Ham said there were “significant shortfalls” in equipment providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.
More on Mali
France says about 10 Islamist fighters were killed today (March 21) when French and Malin forces repelled an attack on Timbuktu, the Voice of America reports.
French President Francois Hollande said this week (March 19) that military operations in Mali are in their final phase. But military analysts are worried al-Qaeda-linked militants could return to nothern ali’s cities and towns once the French withdraw their 4,000 troops from the region. Another concern, says VOA, the Malian army is still weak. The attack on Timbuktu comes a day after a suicide car bombing killed a Malian soldier and wounded six other people at Timbuktu’s airport.
It was the first suicide attack in Timbuktu since French and Malian troops drove Islamist militants out of the ancient caravan city two months ago, the Guardian reported.
Boko Haram Attack
Nigerian security forces say they repelled an attack on a military base by the radical Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, killing 20 militants. An Army spokesman told the Voice of America that the attack occurred today (March 3) in the village of Monguno (also spelled Munguno) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Maiduguri (see map) on the country’s northeast.
Nigeria’s Joint Task Force on Operation Restore Order said three four-wheeled drive vehicles and eight motorcycles were used in the attack, according to the Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper group (via the All Africa website). Army spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa was quoted as saying AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and a large quantity of ammunition were recovered from the attackers by government troops.
There was no mention of civilian or military casualties. The Associated Press reported that witnesses said the attack also killed a village leader. It came just two days after the release of a video purportedly made by Boko Haram’s leader, saying the anti-Western group – which wants to impose Islamic law in Nigeria – will not call off its attacks until sharia becomes the law of Nigeria.
Did Chadians Score Again?Did soldiers from Chad — who are assisting French troops battling radical Islamist insurgents in the mountains of Mali — kill the mastermind of last month’s hostage-taking attack at an Algerian gas plant?
On Saturday, the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, said his troops killed about 40 militants in a stronghold near the Algerian border, Reuters reported. Among the dead, it was claimed, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed commander of an al Qaeda affiliate who claimed responsibility for the attack on the In Amenas natural gas plant in Algeria. More than 60 people were killed during the hostage siege and final rescue/assault by Algerian troops in January. That al Qaeda attack came just days after the French launched a military intervention in Mali at the government’s request.
If true, the news of Belmokhtar’s it would be “a major blow to al Qaeda in the region and to Islamist rebels forced to flee towns they had seized in northern Mali by an offense by French and African troops,” Reuters said March 2.
But now ther commander of Chad’s troops in Mali says he can’t confirm the terror leader’s death in the assault on the stronghold. “It is certain that some leaders were killed. But I can’t confirm that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed, Gen. Oumar Bikomo told the New York Times.
But the general was more certain about the death of another al Qaeda-linked commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, which Chad officials reported Friday.
Meanwhile, a third French soldier has been killed in the military intervention in Mali called Operation Serval.
Imaginative Rhino Protection
Illegal poaching of the wild African rhinoceros for its incredibly valuable horn is pushing the beast toward extinction and that’s pushing environmentalists to come up with some unusual solutions to the problem.
Writing in the journal Science, four leading environmental scientists are suggesting legalizing the rhino horn trade as a way to regulate and control it, Reuters reports. There is an incredible black market for rhino horn, an ingredient in traditional Chinese folk medicine. Prices have climbed from about $4,700 per kilogram ($2,132 per pound) in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilo ($29,485 per pound) today, the scientists said.
There are only 5,00 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left — mostly in South Africa and Namibia — even though a 1977 treaty banned the international trade in rhino horns.
Instead, the scientists say, “the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn.”
Meanwhile, Google and the World Wildlife Fund are teaming up to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over parts of Africa and Asia to monitor and catch poachers who kill endangered tigers, elephants and yes, rhinos, according to news reports.
The WWF is already flying small hand-launched drones over national parks in Nepal. Now Google is giving the environmental protection group a $5 million grant to expand their use of drones and other high tech devices like wildlife tagging and analytical software.
The 15-member West African trading bloc, known as ECOWAS, is giving the interim government in coup-stricken Guinea-Bissau seven more months to prepare for national elections.
The tiny West African nation was wracked by a military coup days before a presidential election last April, prompting international partners like the European Union to freeze aid for the former Portuguese colony. The military gave power back to an ingterim civilian government headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo last May in a deal brokered by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).
Elections were supposed to be held in May 2013 but the heads of state of ECOWAS nations, meeting in Ivory Coast, extended the transitional period in Guinea-Bissau until Dec. 31, Reuters reported, to give Nhamadjo more time to set up the election machinery before the end of the year.
Guinea-Bissau is said to be a major transit hub for South American dug cartels moving narcotics to Europe, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, officials in another small est African nation say they have foiled an attempted coup.
Authorities in Benin said Sunday (March 3) that a plot to oust President Thomas Boni Yayi and install a military regime has been thwarted, according to Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper.
In a statement read to journalists Sunday, State Prosecutor, Justin Gbenameto, said a Colonel and a businessman were arrested for plotting “to block the Head of State from returning to Cotonou”[Benin's capital] after his trip [to meet with South American leaders in Equitorial Guinea] “and to institute a military regime,” The Guardian website said.