Posts tagged ‘Special Operations’
9/11 2001 and 2014
UPDATES with additional Obama remarks, criticism by Sens. McCain and Graham, Middle East coalition agreement and maps of Iraq and Syria by the Institute for the Study of War
It’s the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that left nearly 3,000 dead, hundreds injured and untold numbers traumatized by an surprise attack from a little known, but vicious, enemy.
Now America is gearing up to battle extremist terrorism again.
In a televised address from the White House Wednesday night (September 10) President Barack Obama outlined plans to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the violent militant group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The extremist group has emerged from the Syrian civil war to rout Iraqi military units and seize a swath of northern Iraq. The group, also known as ISIL (for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has killed captured prisoners, threatened non Sunni Muslims like Shia and Yazidi with extermination, killed two American journalists in gruesome videos and forced Christian Iraqis to convert to Islam, flee the country or be killed.
“ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim,” Obama said in his 14-minute address. He added: “And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
The president outlined a strategy for eliminating ISIS, which critics claim has taken too long to evolve and doesn’t go far enough. Obama said he was sending 475 more troops to Iraq to serve as advisers and trainers of Iraqi forces. That would bring the number of American troops there to more than 1,500 — just a few years after the United States withdrew combat troops from the war-shattered country. Obama also promised more airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq, a step he has declined to take in the past. Since August, the United States has launched 150 airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL targets in Iraq. The United States has also been dropping cargo pallets of food, water and other relief supplies to Iraqi refugees hiding in the mountains.
“Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Obama said, noting U.S. actions against al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia. He also stressed that the additional forces will not have a combat mission. “We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he pledged.
But if ISIS/ISIL is left unchecked it could pose a treat to the Middle East and beyond, including the United States. American intelligence agencies believe that thousands of foreign nationals, including Europeans and some U.S. citizens have flocked to Syria over the last three years to fight against the Assad regime and other rebel groups. There is concern that those fighters, now battled-tested and exposed to extreme radical ideology, could return to their home countries and launch terrorist attacks. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made that point back in February.
Obama called on Congress to authorize and fund the training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels. He also said the United States will work with partner nations to redouble intelligence and counter terrorism efforts to prevent a terror attack by ISIS/ISIL in America. Lastly,Obama to keep support relief efforts for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homes to avoid persecution by ISIS/ISIL. Obama pledged to head a coalition of partner nations to battle the threat. “Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid,” Obama said.
Shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry has born fruit. Leaders from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf Cooperation Council – an alliance of the Sunni Arab Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – have pledged to “stand united” against “the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” according to The Guardian website.
But the British newspaper notes there are several thorny issues such as whether the Assad regime will allow coalition warplanes into its airspace to bomb ISIS/ISIL and whether U.S. advisers will enter Syria with the retrained rebels. There are also questions about what role pro-Assad Russia will play as well as Shia-majority Iran, which sees ISIS/ISIL as a threat on its border.
AROUND AFRICA Update 2: Al Shabaab Blitz; Ebola Crisis, Niger Drone Base, Rwanda Verdict, Bastille Day
Somalia Islamists Attacked.
Updates with al Shabaab leader’s death confirmed.
The U.S. military today (Friday, September 5) that the leader of the African Islamist extremist group, al Shabaab, was killed in the drone missile attack in Somalia earlier this week.
Witnesses said drones fired at least four missiles Monday (September 1) in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, destroying two al Shabaab vehicles, according to the Voice of America website. On Tuesday (September 2), the Defense Department disclosed that the head of al Shabaab was the target of the attack.
“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby announced today in a press statement that did not detail how Godane’s identity and death was cestablished. “Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab. The United States works in coordination with its friends, allies and partners to counter the regional and global threats posed by violent extremist organizations,” the published statement continued.
Previously, Kirby said U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions,” according to a transcript of Tuesday’s Pentagon press briefing.
It was the most aggressive U.S. military operation in nearly a year, coming as the President Barack Obama’s administration grapples with security crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, the Washington Post noted. Al Shabaab, which means “the youth,” in Arabic, is a jihadist movement affiliated with al Qaeda that started in Somalia “a chronically unstable country on the Horn of Africa,” and has grown into a regional terrorist group that has carried out attacks in Uganda and Kenya — including last year’s Nairobi shopping mall attack that left scores of dead and injured. Al Shabaab has also cooperated with another al Qaeda branch in Yemen, the Post added.
Al Jazeera reported that the jihadist group confirmed it had come under attack but would not Godane’s situation. The attack comes just a few days after African Union troops and Somali government forces launched a major offensive aimed at seizing key ports from al Shabaab and cutting off key sources of revenue, said Al Jazeera. The Associated Press reported that the air strikes killed six militants but it was not known at the time if Godane was among the dead.
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Widening Ebola Threat
The head of an international medical aid, group, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders), says the world is losing the battle to contain the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
Military teams should be sent to the region immediately if there is to be any hope of controlling the epidemic, MSF’s international president Dr. Joanne Liu told the United Nations Tuesday (September 2), painting a stark picture of health workers dying, patients left without care and infectious bodies lying in the streets, The Guardian website reports.
Although alarm bells have been ringing for six months, the response had been too little, too late and no amount of vaccinations and new drugs would be able to prevent the escalating disaster, Liu told U.N. officials, adding: “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.”
Ebola has spread to a fifth West African nation. Senegal’s health minister, Awa Marie Coll Seck has confirmed that country’s first Ebola case. On Friday (August 29), she said a young man from Guinea with the deadly disease had crossed into Senegal, where he was promptly put in isolation, according to Al Jazeera. Other countries reporting Ebola cases include: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
The current outbreak, which first appeared in Guinea, has killed more the 1,900 people across the region since March, according to the World Health Organization, the BBC reported. At least 3,000 people have been infected with the virus and the World Health Organization has warned the outbreak could grow and infect more than 20,000 people.
Meanwhile, fear and ignorance is blamed for the violent — and unhelpful reaction is some places in the region. In Liberia, one of the three hardest-hit nations, there have been clashes between soldiers and residents of quarantined slum area in the capital, Monrovia. In Nigeria, residents in some areas are protesting against the idea of building isolation units in their neighborhoods. The Voice of America reported Friday (August 29) that people have taken to the streets in the northern city of Kaduna, protesting plans to convert sections of a local clinic into an Ebola treatment center. In many parts of Nigeria residents say they fear Ebola more than Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has killed thousands of people.
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2nd Niger Drone Base UPDATE
After months of negotiations, the government of Niger in West Africa has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials, the Washington Post reports.
The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent, the military newspaper said.
The United States started drone surveillance flights out of Niamey, Niger’s capital, in early 2013 to support French forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali. Washington always intended to move the operation further north and now the details have been worked out to relocate the flights to a base in Agadez, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Niamey, said a U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity, Defense News reported.
The U.S. Air Force also flies unmanned aircraft out of Chad to help locate hundreds of school girls kidnapped by the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria.
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A South African court has found four of six suspects charged with trying to assassinate a former Rwandan Army general guilty of attempted murder. Two other men accused in the 2010 attack on Faustin Nyamwasa in Johannesburg, South Africa that left him wounded.
Nyamwasa fled Rwanda in 2010 after a dispute President Paul Kagame, al Jazeera reported. According to the an Al Jazeera reporter, Nyamwasa does not blame the four who were convicted, saying they were “used” by the Rwandan government. According to Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, the trial judge was convinced the murder attempt was politically motivated by people in Rwanda. Kagame denies involvement in the attack.
Police broke up another murder plot against the general in 2011 and early this year armed men attacked his Johannesburg house in a separate incident.
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Africa at Bastille Day UPDATE
Troops from several African nations that served as peacekeepers during the French intervention in Mali were among the contingents July 14 during the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris. Among the troops in this photo, all wearing the blue United Nations beret are soldiers from Chad, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria.
(Click on the photo to enlarge. To see more photos of the 2014 Bastille Day military parade in Paris, click here.
Special operations troops assigned to U.S. Southern Command track with their fellow parachutists from Colombia during an international free fall event at Fort Tolemaida, Colombia, July 30. The parachute drop was part of Fuerzas Comando 2014, a commando skills competition for military and polic special operations forces from the Western Hemisphere.
We know we just ran a photo from Fuerzas Commando last week as the Friday Foto. But were taken by the sharp colors and contrasts in this Army photo when we were looking fro this week’s FRIDAY FOTO.
This year, the U.S. team — including Green Berets from the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group — finished 2nd out of 17 teams, the best performance by a U.S. team since the competition began 10 years ago. By the way, the Colombian team came out on top, taking first place for the sixth time. The team from El Salvador finished third.
To see more photos of the free fall drop and the closing ceremonies, click here.
A soldier from El Salvador tries to get out of the spider web obstacle during the Fuerzas Comando obstacle course July 29 at Fort Tolemaida, Colombia. The course was the final event of the competition. Fuerzas Comando 2014, established in 2004, is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored special operations skills competition and fellowship program for militaries in the Western Hemisphere.
To se more photos from this commando competition, click here.
To read an article about it in Spanish (En Espanol) click here:
Libya appears to be sliding into anarchy as a raging fire, touched off by a missile strike, has closed the main airport and 61 people have been reported killed in just the last 24 hours, according to the Voice of America. VoA noted the death toll stands at 150 in two weeks of clashes across the North African country.
Two rival brigades of former rebels fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport have been pounding each other’s positions with rockets, artillery fire and cannons for two week — turning the south side of Libya’s capital into a battlefield, Reuters reported. On Sunday (July 27) a rocket struck and ignited a huge jet fuel storage tank — forcing closure of the airport as several foreign embassies have been evacuating their diplomatic personnel and hundreds of foreign nationals are trying to flee the country on Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The airport fire raged out of control Monday (July 28) and Libya’s interim government sought international assistance.
The violence, which has been escalating and spreading since Libyan strongman Muammar Qadaffi was deposed and killed three years ago, has prompted the U.S. Embassy to move the diplomatic staff out of Tripoli to Tunisia. The United Nations and Turkey have moved their diplomats out as well. According to the Pentagon, all embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards, by ground vehicle on Saturday (July 26) without incident. During the exodus F-16 fighter jets and MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft (carrying an Airborne Response Force) and unspecified intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets provided security.
Nearly 100 people have been killed by ongoing clashes at the airport since early July and scores more have been killed recently in Benghazi — where government forces clashed with Islamic militants — and in Tripoli, where rival militias are fighting.
At least eight foreign governments (Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the United States) are urging their citizens to leave Libya immediately. Libya’s neighbors and Western security analysts worry that the chaos will spread beyond Libya’s borders — and create a a safe haven for terrorists close to Europe. Already, many of the heavy weapons — like man-portable rocket launchers and truck mounted machine guns — have disappeared from Qadaffi’s armories and spread across North Africa.
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The wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali was abducted in the northern Cameroonian town of Kolofata. A local religious leader, who was the town’s mayor, was also abducted in a separate attack. At least three people were killed in the raids.
Boko Haram has been increasing cross-border incursions into Cameroon in recent weeks and the West African country has deployed troops to the region bordering Nigeria. Officials said the attack on the vice prime minister’s house was the third in Cameroon since Friday (July 25). At least four soldiers were killed in previous attacks. About 22 suspected Boko Haram militants, in custody since March, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10-to-20 years in Maroua, Cameroon on Friday (July 25). It’s not known if the attacks are related to that. Militants have kidnapped foreign nationals in northern Cameroon before, including a French family and Chinese workers.
Meanwhile, at least five people were killed by a bomb in northern Nigeria and locals suspect Boko Haram is responsible. Nigerian police say the five victims were killed when a bomb was thrown at worshippers as they were leaving a church in Nigeria’s main northern city of Kano on Sunday (July 27, the BBC reported. A young female suicide bomber also wounded five police officers as she rushed towards them and blew herself up in a separate incident, they added
Boko Haram has been waging a five year terror war against the Nigerian government, Western influence and Christians in largely Muslim northeast Nigeria. The group’s name, in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria, has been translated to mean either “Western education is forbidden” or “Western education is false or fraudulent.” The concept stems from British attempts during the colonial era to force a unified education curriculum for Nigerian children that by-passed traditional Muslim schools in the rural north. Boko Haram wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria under strict sharia law.
Last week, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to form a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle Boko Haram. Efforts to step up regional co-operation gathered momentum after Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in north-eastern Nigeria. The Nigeria government of President Goodluck Jonathan — who faces re-election this year — of doing too little, too late to find and rescue the girls.
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Ebola Threat Spreads
As the death toll from the Ebola epidemic continues to rise, the New York Times reports that panicked villagers in Guinea are blocking and even attacking international aid workers, fearing that it is the doctors who spread the deadly virus.
Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others, according to a piece written by the Times’ Adam Nossiter.
Liberia, one of the affected countries, has closed most of its border crossings and communities hit by the epidemic face quarantine in an effort to halt the outbreak, deemed the deadliest by the United Nations. Screening centers are also being set up at the few major entry points that will remain open, such as the main airport, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Nigeria largest’s airline, Arik Air, has suspended all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone after a man with Ebola flew to Nigeria last week and later died.
Two US aid workers are also being treated for Ebola in Liberia, including Dr Kent Brantly, who was the medical director at one of the country’s two treatment centres run by the group, Samaritan’s Purse. The other American, Nancy Writebol, works for the Serving in Mission (SIM) as part of the same team, BBC said.
On Saturday (July 26), one of Liberia’s most prominent health officials treating Ebola patients at the country’s largest hospital, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, died after contracting the disease, according to The Independent. A Ugandan doctor working in Liberia also died earlier this month, while last week the virus infected Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s chief Ebola doctor
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Air Algerie Crash
French officials are citing poor weather as the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight over Mali in northwest Africa with 118 people on board.
Investigators at the scene of the crash in northern Mali concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, officials said, suggesting it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack. But French authorities are not ruling out other causes, including terrorism, without a full investigation, the Associated Press reported.
The MD-83 twin engine jet liner — bound for Algiers, Algeria — disappeared less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Following on the heels of the shootdown of a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine and the mysterious disappearance of another Malaysian jet bound for Beijing earlier this year the Algerian plane’s disappearance sparked concerns about a hijacking or a surface-to-air missile attack. Yhe area where the plane crashed was a conflict zone a year ago when nomadic Touregs and Islamic extremists launched a rebellion against Mali’s government and seizied half the country. French, Malina and Dutch troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali secured the crash site. The plane’s black boxes have been recovered and will be studied for clues to what caused the plane to crash.
Belize River Patrol
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Galla trains with the Belize Special Boat Unit during Southern Partnership Station 2014 on the Moho River, Belize, July 8, 2014.
Southern Partnership is a U.S. Navy deployment, sponsored by U.S. Southern Command, focusing on exchanging expertise with partner nation militaries and security forces.
Galla is a gunner’s mate assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 2.
To see more photos of this riverine training exercise, click here.
Counter Terrorism Strategy.
The Pentagon’s top intelligence adviser says terrorists in Syria, Yemen and the wild region along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border still pose the greatest threat to U.S. security.
While the number of groups “aspiring to the jihadi philosophy has expanded” and the number of attacks have grown they are mostly focused on internal or neighboring enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, says Michael Vickers. But “the most dangerous threats to the American homeland emanate from Syria, from Yemen and still from the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region,” Vickers, said during a panel discussion on counterterrorism Thursday (July 24) at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Vickers said the extremist movement that has swept out of war-torn Syria and seized a large slice of Iraq under the name Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is “in a competition for leadership of the global jihad with al Qaeda … and they’re a threat not to be discounted as well.”
Before he became the principal intelligence adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his successor, Chuck Hagel, Vickers served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity & Interdependent Capabilities, where he oversaw strategic forces, conventional forces and special operations forces – as well as advising the secretary of defense on counter terrorism and irregular warfare.
From 1973 to 1986, Vickers served as an Army Special Forces non-commissioned officer, Green Beret officer and CIA operations officer. During the 1980s he was the principal strategist for the covert paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan (“Charlie Wilson’s War”).
Another security concern for Vickers: the number of foreign fighters streaming in and out of Syria who have passports from Western nations. He said they number in the thousands “so it’s a serious problem.” He noted that the number of foreign fighters streaming into Syria-Iraq is much greater than the flow of foreign fighters during the height of the Iraq War.
“I think Syria is a disaster from a threat perspective” because there are thousands of foreign fighters who a very hard to track, said another panelist, Juan Zarate, a former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism during the George W. Bush administration. He said Syria was “animating the movement” and “drawing adherents” from around the world. “Any time you give terrorist groups — those with global ambitions and potential reach — the breathing space to operate, to innovate, to strategize, to make connections, that’s a prescription for disaster. And I think that’s a real problem with Syria as it festers.”
Vickers also praised the armed Predator drone as the single most important asset for wearing down al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen.