Posts tagged ‘Mexico’
Soldiers vs Vigilantes vs Drug Gangs
The Mexican government’s attempts to quell violence between vigilantes battling drug gangs in the southwesterrn state of Michoacan have turned deadly in a confrontation between the military and civilians.
There are contradictory reports on the number of casualties in the town of Antunez where soldiers were reported to have opened fire early Tuesday (January 14) on an unarmed crowd blocking the street. The Associated Press is reporting that its reporters saw the bodies two men said to have died in the incident. AP journalists said they also spoke with the family of a third man reportedly killed in the same incident.
The Los Angeles Times reported that 12 people were said to have died in the clash, according to the Mexican newspaper Reforma. The self-defense groups began organizing last year to protect local people from the drug gang known as the Knights Templar, who were extorting and otherwise terrorizing residents of Tierra Caliente, an important farming region west of Mexico City.
Local citizens said they had to arm themselves because federal troops failed to guarantee their security. On Monday (January 13) Mexico’s interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, urged the vigilantes to lay down their arms, the BBC reported.
The Knights Templar, who control much of the methamphetamine trade to the United States, say the vigilantes have sided with a rival gang, the New Generation cartel. But the self-defense groups fiercely deny that.
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Ecuador’s First Drone
Ecuador has developed its first domestically made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa revealed the country’s first drone on local television Saturday (January 11), according to the Russian television network, RT (Russia Today).
The drone, called the UAV-Gavilan (Spanish for hawk), cost half a million dollars, a significant savings for Ecuador — which, 2007 paid $20 million for six Israeli-made UAVs, according to the Associated Press.
The gasoline-powered, carbon fiber and wood UAV was designed by the Ecuadorian Air Force to help the country, which borders both the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, fight drug trafficking, Correa said. He added that the Gavilan tracked a ship loaded with drugs for six hours before authorities intercepted the vessel.
Its video cameras and sensors will help the Euadorian Air Force monitor the country’s borders and hard-to-reach areas, like the Amazon rainforest, as well as assisting investigations. Ecuador plans to produce four of the UAVs for itself and then sell others to interested countries in Latin America.
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FARC Ends Ceasefire
Colombia’s Marxist rebels announced Wednesday (January 15) that they were ending their unilateral holiday ceasefire with government forces.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — widely known by their Spanish acronym FARC –announced in Havana, Cuba, where it has been in peace negotiations with the government that it was ending the ceasefire it declared December 15, Reuters reported.
The rebels, who have battled the government in Bogota for five decades, accused government armed forces and police units of pursuing “aggressions and provocations.”s
theThe FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, declared a one-month ceasefire on December 15 and said in a statement issued on Wednesday, “we lived up to our word… despite permanent aggressions and provocations by the government’s armed forces and police units.”
While the FARC has repeatedly called for both sides to end hostilities, President Juan Manuel Santos has refused to agree. The rebels previously observed another unilateral cease-fire that lasted two months, the Associated Press reported.
The FARC has been fighting the government in a brutal guerrilla war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in jungle and urban attacks. The revolt began as a peasant movement seeking land reform but in recent years the FARC — branded a terrorist organization by the United States — is reported to have aligned itself with Colombian drug cartels, obtaining much of its funding through narcotics sales. The FARC is the oldest active guerrilla army — estimated to number 8,000 — in the Western Hemisphere..
The leader of the notorious Mexican drug gang, the Zetas, has been captured by the Mexican military near the border with Texas, officials announced late Monday (July 15).
Miguel Trevino Morales was wanted by Mexican and U.S.. authorities. Both countries posted multi-million dollar rewards for him. Known as Z-40, he was captured by Mexican Marines using a helicopter, who intercepted him in a pickup truck outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, according to the Associated Press. Morales and two others, believed to be an accountant and a bodyguard, were taken into custody along with $2 million in cash and eight guns.
Trevino Morales is the highest-ranking crime boss taken down since President Eneique Pena Nieto took office in December, according to the BBC. More than 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since December 2006.
Pena Nieto promised to change the policy of the previous government by tackling cartels through law enforcement on a local level rather than the capture of big-name targets. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, had deployed the army across the country and pursued cartel leaders. That policy eliminated many senior criminal figures, but it also created power vacuums that helped fuel the violence.
The Zetas have been linked to some of the most violent crimes in Mexico’s battle with drug cartels, including massacres of immigrants passing through Mexico on their way to the United States and a casino fire that killed 52 people in Monterrey in 2011.
The Zetas originally were deserters from Mexico’s special operations forces hired as bodyguards and enforcers by the Gulf Cartel. But they split off to form their own gang in 2007 and have terrified Mexico –especially along the U.S. border — with unbelievable violence and brutality – including torture, beheadings and massacres, the Los Angeles Times reported.
More Border Agents?
If a compromise deal on pending immigration legislation holds up, it would double the number of federal agents on the U.S.-Mexican border. But according to Reuters, some officials question the benefits of the $50 billion pricetag for the boost from 21,000 to 40,000 border security agents.
In addition to the federal agent surge and completion of a 700-mile-long border fence, the compromise would also include $3.2 billion for a high tech border surveillance plan – including unmanned aircraft, infrared ground sensors and long range thermal imaging cameras, the New York Times reported.
James Comey tapped for FBI Post
[Updates with Comey nominated, praised by Obama, adds photo and link to 2008 UAV demonstration for FBI]
As predicted, President Obama formally nominated James Comey – a former high-ranking official in the George W. Bush administration – to be the nation’s next FBI director.
At a White House announcement in the Rose Garden, Obama praised Comey’s integrity — without going into specifics of his opposition, when Comey was Deputy U.S. Attorney General, to the continuation of a warantless eavesdropping program that he believed was unconstitutional. Comey threatened to resign in opposition to the move. President George W. Bush later backed Comey’s position.
“This is a 10-year assignment. I make this nomination confident that long after I’ve left office, our nation’s security will be in good hands with public servants like Jim Comey,” Obama said, calling for the Senate to “act promptly with hearings and to confirm our next FBI director right away.”
As a U.S. attorney in New York, Comey successfully prosecuted more than a dozen men for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. service members.
If he is confirmed, Comey, 52, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan and areas north of New York City, will replace Robert S. Mueller III, who is leaving the agency after a dozen years. Comey’s nomination has been expected since last month when news reports indicated he had emerged as the top candidate.
Obama also praised the outgoing FBI director. “Under his watch, the FBI joined forces with our intelligence, military and homeland security professionals to break up al Qaeda cells, disrupt their activities and thwart their plots,” the president said, adding: “Countless Americans are alive today, and our country is more secure, because of the FBI’s outstanding work under the leadership of Bob Mueller.”
Earlier this week, the current FBI director told Congress that while the FBI has used drones in its investigations, it has been rare and only for surveillance purposes.
According to NBC, Director Robert Muller acknowledged that the FBI used drones in investigative practices but said the agency is working to establish better guidelines for their use.
Back in 2008, when your 4GWAR editor was working at Aviation Week, we went down to Quantico, Virginia to see a demonstration for FBI officials of a catapult-launched Insitu Scan Eagle unmanned air vehicle. You can see a short video of the launch and recovery here.
Send in the Marine
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly has been nominated to oversee U.S. military operations in the southern half of the Western Hemisphere – U.S. Southern Command.
Based in Miami, Florida, SOUTHCOM as it’s usually referred to, has military responsibilities for Latin America and the Caribbean Basin. Those responsibilities include organizing joint exercises with local militaries in the region as well as good will/humanitarian aid missions.
Building closer ties with partners in Latin America and Africa is expected to rise in importance in coming years as the Obama administration plans to focus most of the military’s attention on the Asia-Pacific region and the always volatile Middle East.
Kelly has been serving as senior military adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta since March 2011.
Subject to Senate confirmation, Kelly will succeed Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser as head of SOUTHCOM. A promotion to full (four star) general comes with the new post as head of one of the Defense Department’s six regional combatant commands.
A Boston native, Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970, rising to the rank of sergeant before leaving to attend the University of Massachusetts. After graduation in 1976, he received an officer’s commission. He has served as a platoon and company commander in the 2nd Marine Division and done sea duty on the aircraft carriers USS Forrestal and USS Independence, according to his official biography.
He has also commanded a light armored reconnaissance battalion in the 1st Marine Division and served as: the Marine Corps’ legislative liaison to Capitol Hill; special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, in Mons, Belgium; assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division; and commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq. A graduate of the National War College, Kelly served two tours in Iraq.
In addition to the risks posed by violent transnational drug cartels in Mexico Colombia and a growing number of Central American countries, national security experts have worried about the possibility that international terrorists might try to develop a foothold in the remote and often lawless Triple Frontier region where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet.
Top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate panel yesterday (Jan. 31) that they still have concerns about the growing influence of China and Iran in South and Central America.
Don’t Fence Me In
After a year’s study, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided to end its trouble-plagued program to build a virtual security fence along the border with Mexico.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Friday (Jan. 14) that the department was scrapping the project, first envisioned in 2005, to secure the southwest border with a system of video cameras, radar and sensors, combined with a command and control system to link them to DHS ground and air assets along the border. The idea was to create a “virtual fence.”
But the program, called SBInet, “cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution,” Napolitano said in a written statement.
She ordered a reassessment of the multi-billion dollar program last January and froze funding for it and lead contractor Boeing Corp., pending the reassessment. The program, which critics said had not been sufficiently developed before the contract was awarded, was plagued by delays and cost overruns – infuriating congressional leaders. Only about 50 miles of the Arizona border was covered by SBInet technology in two test phases after more than four years’ work.
Napolitano said a new border strategy will assess the best technologies for border security based on the unique needs of each region.
Some congressional leaders hailed the decision, which had been expected since last year’s halt.
”From the start, SBInet’s one-size-fits-all approach was unrealistic,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He called the decision to use technology “based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border” a “far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said SBInet was “a grave an expensive disappointment since its inception.” Thompson, who had been chairman of the panel until Republicans won control of the House last fall, noted the committee held 11 hearings on the project and commissioned five Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports “all while this program cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the current chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he understood the department’s decision to end SBInet but “I continue to have very serious concerns about the Obama administration’s lack of urgency to secure the border.”
King complained that DHS has taken a year to make a final decision on SBInet and “will spend all of 2011, and maybe longer, deciding what to do next.”
Calling that pace unacceptable, King said he expected the administration to present a plan with necessary staffing, fencing and technology requirements in its 2012 DHS budget proposal “including timelines and metrics.”
GREECE: Border Fence Planned at Turkish Border
Greece is joining the growing number of countries (U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel) building or planning to build a border fence to keep out unwanted immigrants — and terrorists.
The Greek government announced plans Jan. 3 to build a fence along a portion of its 124-mile (200 kilometer) border with Turkey to halt a wave of illegal immigrants from entering Europe. Last year more than 100,000 migrants — mostly from Africa and Asia — crossed into Greece near Evros, according to the government. The European Union says 90 percent of the illegal immigrants entering the EU come through Greece.
The EU border agency, Frontex, sent more than 100 border control officers to Greece in November to assist with the border crossing problem.
The move — not yet definite — would erect a 7-mile (12.5 km) fence at Evros the only overland crossing between the two countries. Elsewhere along the border, a river divides Greece and Turkey.
The decision is being likened to the U.S. project to build an actual and virtual fence along its 700-mile border with Mexico. But after four years and hundreds of millions of dollars, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to pepper the border with surveillance cameras and sensors has only managed to cover about 50 miles in Arizona. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano halted the program in March pending review.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is building a security fence on its border with Yemen and strengthening security on its border with Iraq. Israel, which has walled off Gaza and Arab portions of the West Bank to prevent terrorist infiltration is considering a border fence with Jordan for the same reason. Middle East experts say more countries in the region are likely to increase their investment in border security — largely to halt illegal commerce and immigration although there is concern that extremists might try to slip into a country along with economic migrants seeking work.
Sweden: Terror Blasts in Downtown Stockholm
The threat of terrorist car bombings has now stretched to Scandinavia. One man was killed and two people were injured in a pair of bombings over the weekend in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
Swedish police are investigating e-mails, sent shortly before the blasts, threatening attacks because Sweden has sent troops to Afghanistan, the BBC reports. The dead man, said to be an Iraqi-born British resident, sent the e-mails, officials say. Sweden has sent some 500 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the international military force.
For a video report of the blasts and their aftermath, click here.
SUDAN: Vote on Splitting Country Next Month
A referendum is scheduled next month to determine if Southern Sudan will split from the rest of the civil war-wracked country. NPR takes a look at an oil-rich county that sits along the border that could spark additional strife.
Abyei is considered largely within Arab-dominated, mostly Muslim northern Sudan but most of the area’s inhabitants are black Africans who practice Christianity or Animism – and are loyal to the south. Some have threatened to secede at the risk or war.
AFGHANISTAN: Small Arms Attacks Up, Six U.S. Troops Killed by Blast
Small arms attacks by the Taliban against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are on the rise – nearly twice what they were a year ago – reports USA Today. Tom Vaden Brook’s story says there have been more than 18,000 attacks by Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, compared to about 10,600 in 2009. Officials say the rise in attacks is a result of the coalition’s push into Taliban strongholds – and the insurgency’s resilience.
Meanwhile, a massive vehicle bomb in southern Afghanistan has killed six and U.S. and two Afghanistan soldiers. The Associated Press reports two Afghans have been arrested in connection with Sunday’s suicide attack in the Zahari district of Kandahar Province.
The blast comes just days before the Obama administration releases its comprehensive review of the strategy that sent an additional 30,000 U.S. Troops to Afghanistan this year.
NATURAL SECURITY: Where the Next Conflicts Could Arise
The quest for oil, minerals and other natural resources could spark conflicts around the world from the Arctic to Africa’s Niger Delta in the not-too-distant future . More and more, the military and security planners are coming to grips with the effects the natural world will have on defense and foreign policy. The New York Times recently had an interesting analysis on some potential hot spots in 2011 and beyond.
We at 4GWAR must admit feeling pleased that all of the places mentioned – Brazil, China, Yemen and the Horn of Africa, the Niger Delta, and the High North – are areas we have written about in the last year. Please click on the links to see what we mean.
We would also list the Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes Region, Mexico and Central America, the India-Pakistan border and Central Asia as other places to keep an eye on because of water, food, or oil shortages — or human migration due to those shortages.
Pairing Defense and Development
Brazil’s defense minister says his country’s new strategic plan – which calls for increased military presence in the Amazon region – is not aimed at international terrorists, drug cartels or any of Brazil’s neighbors.
Instead, says Nelson Jobim, the strategy seeks to link national defense with national development by protecting and leveraging Brazil’s large water, agricultural and energy resources.
Speaking at George Washington University Wednesday (Oct. 20), Jobim said Brazil intends to beef up Army, Navy and Air Force capabilities along its northern and western perimeters, which border the Amazon River Basin and its enormous rainforest areas. Jobim stressed the plan is not a reaction to Brazil’s restive neighbors: Venezuela, Colombia or Bolivia. There are also plans to increase monitoring the waters more than 100 miles offshore, beneath which are believed to contain vast petroleum deposits.
Overall, the strategy calls for increased attention to space, cyberspace and nuclear security. A nuclear submarine is included in a five-sub manufacturing deal with France. Brazil wants to monitor the Amazon with satellites. The largest country in South America and the world’s eighth largest economy, Brazil also wants to launch its own satellites rather than pay other countries for their imagery, Jobim said.
The strategy calls for the creation of a second naval fleet in the north to protect the Amazon region. There are also plans to base a second Marine division near the Amazon’s mouth.
The Army has 21 frontier platoons patroling along the rivers that flow into Brazil from neighboring countries. The strategic plan calls for creating 28 more platoons, who will live among the natives of the region with their families.
More unmanned aircraft and – after the Oct. 31 presidential runoff election – more jet fighters are also in the plan. The selection of the F-X2, the next generation of Brazilian fighter aircraft is being delayed to give the new president a say in the matter. The three aircraft under consideration are Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, Sweden’s Gripen from Saab AB and the Rafale made by France’s Dassault.
A deciding factor will be technology transfer. Brazil doesn’t want to just buy somebody else’s airplanes, but wants to acquire all the internal technology as well as the aircraft so it can build and service follow-on models in Brazil. Technology acquisition is part of the cyberspace segment of the strategic plan.
It has been reported that France is the front-runner in the fighter competition because it has agreed to sell all the aircraft’s technology to Brazil. U.S. law limits the transfer of technology deemed crucial to national security and Sweden’s Gripen is made from parts manufactured in other countries which would each have to approve the information transfer.
“Brazil uses the purchase of military equipment for the transfer of technology,” Jobim said, adding: “I don’t want to buy any thing. If they [aircraft makers] reply ‘It’s difficult,’ we’re out.”
Brazil is also buying 50 EC-7250 military transport helicopters from France and developing – with Colombia, Chile, the Czech Republic and Portugal – a new large transport plane, the Embraer KC-390, that can land on a small (1,200 meter) airstrip. Both aircraft are to be manufactured, at least in part, in Brazil. Jobim estimated that hundreds of U.S.-made Hercules heavy lift aircraft will be retired between 2018 and 2020. That’s the time when the KC-390 will be ready for market, Jobim said.
Despite the drug gang violence embroiling Mexico, Colombia and other neighbors to the north, Jobim said narcotics interdiction was a police matter, not a defense security issue. Using the army as a police force can be a touchy subject in Brazil, which was ruled for much of the 20th century by military dictatorships.
Jobim also discounted the concerns that the so-called Triple Frontier – where Brazil’s border intersects with Paraguay and Argentina – is an ungoverned and lawless area.
The area has a large immigrant Arab population – mostly Palestinians and Syrians – and U.S. officials have expressed concern that while the majority are law abiding, international terror groups, like Hezbollah an al Qaeda, could use the area’s business climate to raise money legally or illegally.
Jobim attributed those concerns to ignorance and prejudice. “The mistake the West makes is in thinking our structures are the only ones,” he said, claiming that Brazil was a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that did not pigeonhole people.
“There are no problems on the Triple Frontier, only some American commentators are concerned,” Jobim said.
Outside opinions about the area could be affected by a new motion picture being planned about the Triple Frontier. Entertainment industry blogs are full of news about “Sleeping Dogs.” The film project depicting the Triple Frontier as an organized crime haven is being developed by Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “The Hurt Locker,” which won the Academy Award for best picture last year. Tim Hanks and Johnny Depp are reportedly interested in appearing in the film.
AFGHANISTAN: Less safe than before
Despite the surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan, things have gotten more dangerous in parts of the country that have seen little violence in the recent past, according to the New York Times. Quoting a United Nations assessment, the report found that the Taliban has had a surge of its own, greatly increasing its activities in northern and parts of eastern Afghanistan. International relief and humanitarian organizations say less and less of the country is safe for aid workers to operate in.
The number of insurgent attacks has risen from 630 in August 2009 to well over 1,300 for the same month this year. Ten Western medical aid workers were killed last month in northern Afghanistan — one of the quietest parts of the country until recently.
EGYPT: Picking the next president
If you want to know who is going to be the next president of Egypt,the best people to ask are leaders of the Egyptian military. The New York Times reports Egypt’s military — which prides itself as the least corrupt and most efficient state institution in Egypt — wields considerable influence. The current president, Hosni Mubarak, has been in power for 29 years but the 82-year-old leader is ill and not expected to seek re-election when his term expires next year. But the Egyptian military — which has received nearly $40 billion in U.S. aid over the past three decades — has a vested interest in influencing the selection of the next president. Like China’s People’s Liberation Army, the Egyptian military is heavily involved in commercial ventures from road-building to manufacturing consumer goods — as well as military equipment. Very little of its budget is made public.
Many current and former military officers are said to oppose Mubarak’s son, Gamal, succeeding him as president. The elder Mubarak, like his two predecessors — Anwar El-Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser — was a top military officer before becoming president.
MEXICO: Large prison escape near Texas
Mexican officials say 85 prisoners, most of them convicted of, or being tried on, weapons and drug charges, escaped from a prison close to the border with Texas, Reuters and other news outlets report. The prisoners used ladders to clear the Tamaulpilas prison’s walls. Authorities are investigating 44 guards to determine if they helped the prisoners make their escape. The prison is located in Reynosa, across the U.S.-Mexico border from McAllen, Texas. The escape occurred a day after 25 people were killed in drug violence in another border city, Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, the Associated Press reports. President Barack Obama has dispatched more than 1,000 National Guard troops [See Sept. 9 4GWAR posting] to help the Department of Homeland Security man the border from California to Texas.
Meanwhile a reputed Mexican drug kingpin was arrested by Mexican marines over the weekend. But as Mexico nears its bicentennial celebration, President Felipe Calderon tells CNN that the narco violence plaguing his country is fueled in part by U.S. government policies on drugs, automatic weapons and immigration.
National Guard on Border from California to Texas
There’s a couple of things the U.S. National Guard wants to make absolutely sure you know concerning its mission on the Southwest border.
– National Guardsmen are not going to flying helicopters or driving tanks or manning pillboxes along the U.S. Border with Mexico.
– No specific National Guard units are being sent to the border as part of President Barack Obama’s initiative to deploy 1,200 troops to the troubled border area. In fact, no out-of-state Guardsman will be on duty in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. Instead, the thousand or so National Guardsmen and Air Guardsmen now at the border are all individual volunteers and not part of a larger unit.
And finally, the Guard volunteers are going to be assisting Homeland Security Department officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But they will not be conducting law enforcement operations on their own, says Jack Harrison, the communications director for the National Guard Bureau.
Harrison took pains to make those points during a Defense Blogger’s Roundtable late last week.
The Guardsmen will not be engaging in direct law enforcement activity. Instead they will assist CBP, ICE and Border Patrol agents as part of entry-identification teams and serving as criminal analysts. “They will be armed, but that will be more for self- protection than anything else,” Harrison says.
The National Guardsmen have been training for up to three weeks in CBP techniques and procedures as well with any CBP-unique equipment they may have to use. ending July 1, 2011. The price tag is a maximum $135 million. While Uncle Sam is funding the program, the individual governors in the four states and their adjutants general will be in charge of their own Guardsmen
Harrison notes that this isn’t the first time the Guard has been called out along the Southwest border. An additional 350 National Guardsmen have been doing counter narcotics missions in that same area for the last two decades. And in 2008, the Guard ended a two-year mission, called Operation Jump Start, to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the border.