Posts tagged ‘Nigeria’
AROUND AFRICA: Joseph Kony Surrender Talk; Nigeria vs. Boko Haram, Swedish Drone on East African Anti-pirate Patrol
End of the Road for LRA Leader?
Is he really sick? Does he seriously want to surrender? Those were the questions swirling around Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous, brutal rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. An African Union official told reporters at United Nations headquarters Wednesday (November 20) that many reports say Kony – who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – is seriously ill and on the run along the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Associated Press.
Ambassador Francisco Madeira told reporters the nature of Kony’s illness isn’t known, but he said Michael Djotodia, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) told him that his people had been in contact with Kony.
A spokesman for Djotodia went even farther, telling the Voice of America that Djotodia has talked with Kony by phone and that Kony said he is ready to put down his arms and come in from the bush.
The spokesman said Kony is in the southern part of the CAR near the Democratic Republic of the Congo with some 7,000 fighters. Past estimates have placed Kony’s troop strength as less than a thousand.
But U.S. Officials are skeptical that Kony means to surrender, the BBC reported. A State Department official told the British broadcaster that while some rebels have been in contact with authorities but Kony is not among them. Kony created the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 1980s as a popular uprising against the Ugandan government. But the LRA was driven out of Uganda in 2005 and has been wandering between the CAR, the DRC and South Sudan, wreaking havoc, killing villagers and soldiers and abducting children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.
A contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been advising African troops in the hunt for Kony and the LRA. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for him.
Battling Boko Haram
Lawmakers in Nigeria have approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency declaration in areas of the West African nation where troops are fighting Islamist militants, the Voice of America reports.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in May, as part of an effort to defeat the violent militant group Boko Haram.
Last week (November 13) the U.S. State Department declared Boko Haram and a splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. government finding labeled Boko Haram a “militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” – al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.
The State Department designation held Boko Haram responsible “for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years – including targeted killings of civilians.” It accused the group of a “brutal campaign” against Nigerian military, government and civilian targets including a September attack that killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheikh and a 2011 suicide bombing at United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that left 21 dead and dozens injured.
U.S. officials accused Ansaru, a smaller group which split with Boko Haram in January 2012, of attacking the Nigerian military and Western targets like the kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers earlier this year.
Despite the inroads Nigerian security forces have made against the jihadist group in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have increased in rural areas, says John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. On the CFR Blog, Africa in Transition, Campbell says there are reports Boko Haram is now targeting – and beheading – truck drivers on the road between Kano and Maiduguri (see map, click to enlarge image) in northeast Nigeria, where the group is trying to impose strict Islamic sharia law.
Horn of Africa
Saab’s Skeldar Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) has been operationally deployed aboard a Spanish naval vessel on anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, the African defense and security website Defence Web reports.
Skeldar is an unmanned rotary wing short-to-medium range aircraft. Mikael Franzen, director of tactical UAS for the Swedish defense contractor, said the Skeldar V-200 is being operated together with a manned helicopter to extend the ship’s surveillance reach in counter piracy activities by the European Union’s Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean .
The unmanned helo is based on the Spanish Navy offshore patrol vessel BAM Meteoro. Prior to being deployed in the Atalanta mission, Skeldar unerwent successful sea trials aboard the BAM Relampago in the waters off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Defence Web said.
AROUND AFRICA: Hostages Released, Somali Drone Strike; Kenya Mall Attack Arrests, Another Pirate Attack
(Click on images to enlarge)
Hostages in Niger Freed
French hostages abducted from a uranium mine in Niger in 2010 have been released, French President Francois Hollande announced today (October 29). He said France’s foreign and defence ministers have left for Niger’s capital, Niamey, and the hostages would return home as soon as possible, according to the BBC.
The four men were seized in September 2010 in raids targeting two French firms operating a uranium mine near Arlit, northern Niger. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group said it was responsible for the kidnappings.
Drone Targets al Shabab?
A U.S. missile strike destroyed a car in Somalia Monday (October 28) believed to be carrying a top leader of the al Shabab Islamist militant group, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported.
The attack was believed to be launched from an unmanned aircraft, or drone, but that has not been officialy confirmed. If a drone strike in southern Somalia is confirmed, it will further illustrate the increasing importance placed by estern powers on counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, the AP noted. Among the dead in the attack was al Shabab’s top bombmaker, Ibrahim Ali, one of the group’s members told the AP.
Three weeks ago, U.S. Navy SEALS launched an unsuccessful raid at Baraawe on the Somali coast that targeted a Kenyan of Somali origin, known as Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, who went by the name “Ikrimah.” He was identified as the main planner of al-Shabab attack on Kenya’s parliament building and the United Nations’
The New York Times noted that the Obama administration has been reluctant to launch drone strikes in Somalia with the regularity it has in Pakistan and Yemen. The Times said that may be in part over whether the U.S. could legally target al Shabaab, which has not tried to attack on American soil. There are also concerns that drone strikes might only incite al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab, transforming the group from a regional organization aimed at driving Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union troops out of Somalia into one with an agenda as violent and international as Al Qaeda’s.
Arrests in Nairobi Mall Looting
Two Kenyan soldiers have been fired – and arrested – for stealing cell phones and other items during last month’s deadly siege at an upscale mall in Nairobi, the Voice of America reported today (Oct. 29).
More than 60 people were killed during the four-day siege at the Westgate shopping center.
Security camera footage showed several soldiers taking things from various shop counters and walking away from stores carrying plastic bags during four-day ordeal.
At first the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the mall’s shops while battling Islamist militants. But after the carnage was over, shopkeepers claimed stores had been looted, including break-ins at automatic teller machines and banks themselves in the mall. Earlier, the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the Westgate shopping center as they battled Islamist militants.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the raid, saying it was retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention into Somalia two years ago. Kenya sent troops to Somalia to help battle al-Shabab, which has been fighting to turn Somalia into a strict Islamist state.
West African Pirates
The new Tom Hanks film, “Captain Phillips” illustrates how dangerous the waters off the coast of East Africa were just a few years ago.
But now the seafarers’ danger zone is on the other side of the continent, in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Christian Science Monitor relates.
While Somalia’s pirates tend to engage in protracted hostage-takings that could stretch for months or even years, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea prefer smash-and-grab operations to steal cargo, according to the Monitor, adding “They especially favor refined oil products like gasoline and diesel that can be sold elsewhere.”
In the latest incident, two American merchant seamen – the captain and chief engineer of the C-Retriever – a 222-foot oil platform supply vessel, were seized by pirates in the waters off Nigeria, where pirate incidents have boomed lately.
The merchant sailors’ whereabouts are currently unknown.
The C-Retriever is owned by the company Edison Chouest Offshore in Louisiana. The ship and 11 other members of the crew were released, the Associated Press reported.
Billion Dollar Deal
China has agreed to provide $1.1 billion in low interest loans to oil-rich Nigeria to pay for much-needed infrastructure in Africa’s most populous country.
The money will help build roads, airport terminals in four cities and a light rail line for Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. China is investing heavily in Africa as a source of oil and other natural resources, according to the BBC. Chinese companies, under contracts worth $1.7 billion, are already building roads across Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer.
The agreement was signed Wednesday (July 10) by Nigerian Prersident Goodluck Jonathan and Chinese leader Xi Jinping during Jonathan’s four-day visit to Beijing.
The Associated Press reported that China’s demand for crude oil produced in Nigeria is expected to rise tenfold to 200,000 barrels a day by 2015, according to information provided by a team accompanying Jonathan.
Zang Chun, an expert on Africa at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies, told the AP that Nigeria is important to China because it has the largest economy in West Africa and because it has oil.
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Obama in Africa
During his three-nation tour of Africa earlier this month, President Barack Obama pledged U.S. investment in a plan to double electrical capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Obama, who visited Senegal in West Africa, South Africa and finally the East African nation of Tanzania during his eight-day trip, spoke about food security and announced a $7 billion investment to double electrical capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.
On his last day in Tanzania, Obama visited the Ubungo Symbion Power Plant near Dar es Salaam, to focus on the lack of electrical power for most residents of sub-Saharan Africa. investing $7 billion in financial support for an initiative called “Power Africa.” Tanzania is one of the initial six participating countries where the government hopes to add 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity and reach 20 million households that lack electricity.
“Public and private resources will be matched with projects led by African countries that are taking the lead on reform,” Obama said. “In this case, African governments commit to energy reforms. And the U.S. is committing some $7 billion in support, and private sector companies have already committed more than $9 billion. And this is just the beginning,” he added “because we look forward to even more companies joining this effort.”
Speaking to U.S. and African business leaders in Dar Es Salaam, Obama announced that new U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker would lead a “major trade initiative” to Africa in her first year at the Commerce Department, the New York Times reported.
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Food Security Threat
A deteriorating food security situation in northeastern Uganda could affect an estimated 1.2 million people, according to reports from the government and aid agencies.
A June 2013 analysis, led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, revealed that up to 975,000 people in the semi-arid Karamoja region face “stressed” levels of food insecurity, while 234,000 more cannot meet their minimum food needs, according to IRIN.
Food security – or the lack of it – is considered a potential security issue by U.S. Intelligence officials. In their 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the U.S. Intelligence Community says “terrorists, militants and international crime organizations can use declining food security to promote their own legitimacy and undermine government authority. Growing food insecurity in weakly governed countries could lead to political violence and provide opportunities for existing insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs.”
Meanwhile, African leaders meeting in Ethiopia earlier this month pledged to make agriculture a higher priority in their national policies and increase spending witrh a goal of ending hunger across the continent by 2025, The Guardian reported.
At the conclusion of meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, ministers committed to working with the private sector, farmers’ groups, civil society and academia to increaase productivity – while addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition.
Despite strong economic growth across many parts of Africa over the past 10 years, nearly a quarter of the population – about 240 million people – are undernourished, of whom more than 40 percent are children under five, according to the Guardian.
Of the 20 countries in the world suffering from prolonged food shortages, 17 are in Africa, according to José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In an interview with the news agency Inter Press Service, da Silva said Africa is entering a new era “with greater investment in agriculture, and that stronger coordination between governments, civil society organizations and the private sector would make the goal of zero hunger in Africa realistic by 2025.”
Arms Cache Found
Nigerian authorities say they have uncovered a large cache of automatic weapons and explosives belonging to the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, the BBC reports. Authorities say they found the weapons, including rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and anti-tank mines in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano.
Three Lebanese were arrested, an Army spokesman said, insisting that officials had uncovered a Hezbollah cell. Northern Nigeria, where Kano sits, has been wracked by violence over the last three years since Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group launched an insurgency to overthrow Nigeria’s government and establish fundamentalist Sharia law in Nigeria. An estimated 3,000 people have died in Boko Haram-sparked violence, the government said.
President Gooluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three regions – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – and he has admitted that the government has lost control in parts of those states, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Pirates Attack oil tanker
Armed pirates attacked an oil products tanker off the coast of Nigeria in West Africa and abducted an unknown number of crew, Reuters reports. Shipping costs have increased as acts of piracy increase in the Gulf of Guinea region, which includes Africa’s leading oil producer Nigeria. According to Reuters, gunmen boarded the Nigerian-flagged MT Matrix in the early hours Saturday (May 25) about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria in a stretch of water often targeted by pirates.
There were 12 Pakistani and five Nigerian crew members aboard the vessel when it was attacked, sources told Reuters. International navies have not launched counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Guinea – as they have in East Africa – leaving the many vessels in Nigeria waters vulnerable to attack.
Piracy is on the rise in West Africa, according to a Reuters analysis, but the police and coast guard in most of the countries in the region, like Ivory Coast, are too weak and poorly armed to challenge the pirate gangs. In 2010, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which has monitored global piracy since 1991, recorded 33 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. But that figure jumped to 58 last year.
A reset for America’s counter terrorism strategy was announced by President Obama Thursday (May 23) … authorities in London are collecting evidence a day after the brutal slaying of an off-duty British soldier by two men allegedly protesting the treatment of Muslims … meanwhile a man in Florida said to have links to one of the Boston Marathon bombers is slain after an altercation with the FBI.
Recalibrating War on Terror
President Obama today (May 23) outlined his revised plan for countering terrorism and ending the global war on terror.
Speaking at the National Defense University in Virginia, Obama pledged to continue “our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations” but, he added, “this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
The president layed out a series of policy changes and clarifications as well as calling for Congress to allow the closing of detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where 166 alleged terrorists – many now conducting a hunger strike – have been held for years without trial.
Obama also said he was setting new guidelines for when U.S. citizens and foreign nationals can be targeted for death by missile-armed unmanned aircraft, the so-called drones. He defended the use of drone attacks in the past but said the threat has changed in Afghanistan and elsewhere and only when targets pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States and only when avoiding civilian casualties is a “near-certainty,” the Washington Post reported.
His remarks came a day after the White House revealed that four U.S. Citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009. For an outline of the plan, click here.
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Horror in London
An off-duty British soldier was run over by a car and then hacked to death May 22 by two men believed to have ties to radical Islamist groups. Both of the alledged attackers were shot and wounded by London police responding to 9-1-1 calls. One of the suspects men held up a bloody knife and meat cleaver in hands red with blood as he ranted to passersby about his reasons for the attack.
The soldier was identified as Lee Rigby, 25, a drummer with the 2nd Battalion, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, according to CBS. Rigby, who served in Afghanistan, leaves a wife and two-year-old son. He was not in uniform at the time of the attack which took place near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a section of Southeast London.
The man waving the bloody blades and justifying his attack to passersby who filmed him with their cell phones, was identified as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a British-born convert to Islam of Nigerian descent. The second suspect, also hospitalized with gunshot wounds, was not identified.
Authorities in Britain took two other people into custody on conspiracy charges today (May 23) and government investigators were looking into whether the alleged attackers were “lone wolves” or part of a larger terrorist organization.
Rigby is the first person to have died on British soil in an apparent attack by Muslim extremists since the 2005 suicide bombings on London’s transit system, in which 52 people were killed, the Los Angeles Times reported. An additional 1,200 police officers were out patrolling London May 23.
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Marathon Bombing Mystery
There’s been a new wrinkle in the investigation of last month’s bombing of the Boston Marathon.
A man identified as a friend of one of the two alleged bombers was shot to death in Orlando, Florida May 22 after allegedly attacking an FBI agent who has questioning him, the Associated Press reported.
Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was himself slain in a gunbattle with police just days after the bombing, was shot after attacking the FBI agent who did not suffer life-threatening injuries. Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter from Russia, had lived in the Boston area before moving to Orlando, Fla., over the past couple of years.
Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and charged in the bombing.
The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. But some of Todashev’s former roommates said that he knew Tsarnaev from athletic circles in Boston and that the two Russian immigrants might have trained together, the AP reported.
And officials are looking to see if there are any links between Tsarnaev and a triple muder in Boston a year-and-a-half ago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.