Posts tagged ‘Venezuela’
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.
Russia Considers New Naval Bases
As the United States military shifts attention to the Asia Pacific region and reaches agreements to base troops and ships in Australia, Singapore and possibly the Philippines, Russia is considering expanding its overseas naval bases.
Currently, Moscow has only one overseas military installation – a naval supply base at Tartus in civil war-wracked Syria. But the commander of the Russian navy recently said he is looking at opening bases in Cuba, Vietnam and on the Indian Ocean island chain of the Seychelles.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries the political and military jockeying – especially espionage – by Russia and Britain for influence in Central Asia was called “the Great Game.” But after World War II the United States replaced the British Empire and the Soviet Union succeeded the Russian Empire as players of the Great Game.
But now it appears the “Game” may be moving East and West and out to sea with Moscow suggesting it needs more naval bases around the world. “It is true, we are working on the deployment of Russian naval bases outside Russian territory,” Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told the RIA Novosti news agency July 27, according to several western news accounts.
But a day later, Russia’s defense ministry, denied that it was trolling for new bases. In a statement the ministry called the reports a media “fantasy” and said Chirkov – who does not have the authority to make such deals with other governments – was misquoted, AFP reported.
Yesterday (August 1), Pravda reported that the base expansions were being planned for “rest and replenishment of the crews after the campaign in the area and not military bases.” But Russian warships could do both, if necessary, Pravda added “given the good attitudes of the leaders of these countries toward Russia.”
At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman George Little said last week that Russia is within its rights “to enter into military agreements and relationships” with other countries, Bloomberg Businessweek reported, noting that Russia has been building up its Navy since 2008.
Pundits and politicians around the world were quick to speculate about what it all means. Some thought Vietnam – nervous about China’s bullying behavior in the South China Sea, where massive deposits of oil and gas are thought to exist beneath the sea bed – is looking for a big partner to counter Beijing. Others believed Cuba and Venezuela might be looking for a champion as a buffer against the U.S.
Cuban leader Raul Castro met with Moscow officials last month and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Russia recently. The talks were said to include exploring closer military ties but no announcement was made. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also met with Sang in June and visited the Cam Ranh Bay facility. Sang previously said the naval base’s facilities would be open to all friendly navies.
The Soviet Union took over the massive naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in 1979 after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in the mid 1970s. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian officials decided the rent Vietnam wanted to charge for continued use of its facility was too high and withdrew its personnel in 2002. That was the same year Russia closed its radar facility in Lourdes, Cuba, where the Soviet Union had operated an intelligence-gathering base since the 1960s.
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.
Not Just a Gringo Problem
In the Sept. 24 Friday Foto we we wrote U.S. Marines doing some exchange training with the Kaibiles, tough-as-nails, jungle warfare experts in the Guatemalan Army.
At the time we mentioned the Kaibiles were no strangers to controversy – with unorthodox (some would say borderline sadistic) training methods and a brutal past in Guatemala’s decades-long civil war.
Now a recent study by a Washington think tank notes that some former members of the Kaibiles have been working as enforcers (read: killers) for a Mexican drug gang, Los Zetas. The report, issued by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) also notes that Guatemala “has become a haven for various drug trafficking organizations” including the Zetas, who set up a training camp in the untamed part of northern Guatemala that borders Mexico.
“Zetas increasingly recruit ex-Kaibiles, the special operations division of the Guatemalan army,” says the report: Crime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security, which likens the narcotics-fueled violence and corruption in Latin America to a “criminal insurgency.”
In addition to Guatemala, Mexican drug gangs – like the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Federation and the Beltran Leyva Organization – are dealing directly with cocaine producers in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Meanwhile, the Colombian leftist rebels, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), are financing their 40-year war against the government in Bogota with drug money and using Venezuela as a narcotics shipping point, the report says.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese-based terror group, have both made business inroads – legal and illegal – into Latin America, according to experts cited in the report.
Written by Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and Jennifer Bernal, a CNAS researcher, the report says interlocking narcotics cartels operate within 14 sovereign nations in the Americas and pose a threat to civil society in those countries.“It’s not just a Gringo problem,” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings institution fellow and expert on military conflict and illegal economies. She spoke at a panel discussion of the report’s findings last week.
But the report says the insurgency should not be viewed as an attempt to take over any government – but rather a drive to destabilize it and destroy its credibility with its citizens – making it easier to do business. “Since the cartels’ survival depends on controlling regions where governmental control is non-existent and populations may be impoverished and alienated,” the report says successful strategies “are fundamentally counterinsurgency strategies developed by the concerned states themselves and supported by the U.S.”
The risk to the U.S. doesn’t stop at the Mexican border, the reports says, noting Mexican drug cartels operate “branch offices” in more than 230 U.S. and Canadian cities. The Salvadoran gang, MS-13, operates in 30 U.S. States.
“Whatever national strategy is developed to counter the cartel insurgency, the focus must ultimately include supporting local police departments and the cop on the beat, who confronts the gangs every day,” the report declared.
Unlike Mexico or Colombia, where thousands have been killed in open warfare between drug gangs and the government, there is no counter insurgency role within U.S. borders for the U.S. military, says Killebrew, a former Special Forces officer and Airborne commander.
He says the U.S. Defense Department can support and train militaries and law enforcement agencies in other countries – but must maintain a small footprint. It’s better for the U.S. to train locals in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance than to do it for them, he adds.
“We have to help people help themselves … the further in the background we can be, the better off we all are going to be,” Killebrew says.
LATIN AMERICA: Colombian Court Blocks Bases Deal
A court in Colombia has ruled that a deal allowing U.S. troops access to Colombian military bases is unconstitutional. The court said the 2009 pact – that gave the U.S. access to seven Colombian bases for drug interdiction and counter terrorism efforts – should be considered an international treaty that must should be redrafted and submitted to Colombia’s Congress for ratification, according to reports from the Associated Press and other news agencies.
The presence of U.S. troops has made Colombia’s neighbors nervous — especially Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who has been critical of U.S. influence in the region. Chavez broke diplomatic relations with Colombia for a brief time.
AFGHANISTAN: Attacks on Aid Workers Rise
The United Nations says humanitarian aid workers are being increasingly targeted for attacks and intimidation, CNN reports. There have been 47 incidents in the first six months of this year: 19 U.N. Staffers and aid workers have been attacked; 63 have been kidnapped and seven have been killed.
Afghanistan is proving a dangerous place for all aid workers, according to NPR. Ten medical aid workers from a U.S.-based religious group were murdered in northern Afghanistan earlier this month.
HORN OF AFRICA: U.S. Court Dismisses Piracy Charges Against Somalis
A federal judge in Virginia has dismissed the charge of piracy against six Somalis acused of attacking a U.S. Navy ship last April 330 nautical miles off the coast of Djibouti, the Associated Press reports. The judge ruled the alleged attack did not rise to level of piracy as spelled out in an 1820 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The six remain in custody, however, on seven counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking a vessel with intent to plunder, according to the BBC.
NATIONAL SECURITY: Wild Weather Revives Climate Change Debate
Fires and drought in Russia, heat waves across the eastern U.S. and catastrophic flooding in Pakistan have revived the question of whether global warming is causing more extreme weather, according to the New York Times. The chief of climate change at the National Climatic Data Center says excessive heat, in particular, is consistent with scientists’ understanding of how climate responds to increases in greenhouse gases. But experts also caution there isn’t enough data yet for absolute certainty.
In February, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the U.S. intelligence community believes “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years because it will aggravate existing world problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions.
$600 Million to Secure U.S.-Mexican Border
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $600 million border security bill that wil pay for about 1,500 law enforcement agents and two more unmanned aircraft to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico. The measure is similar to one passed by the Senate last week and must be approved by the Senate when it returns from its August break. At least two Arizona lawmakers facing tough re-election bids this fall want the Senate to come back into session to pass the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to do just that, an aide says. The legislation will be funded, in part, by raising the visa fees for temporary skilled workers – mostly from India. That has been widely criticized by Indian information technology companies.
Gates Plans Pentagon Cutbacks
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wants to avoid a sharp drop in the Pentagon’s budget after the wartime build-up for Iraq and Afghanistan. To skip the decades-old trend of sharp wartime increases and steep peacetime declines, Gates is looking for ways to cut the Pentagon’s spending by $100 million over the next five years. To find those savings, Gates is proposing cutting the number of generals, admirals and high-ranking civilians serving at the Pentagon. But he also wants to eliminate the Joint Forces Command, which is based in Norfolk, Va. Joint Forces Command trains personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to work together on specific missions and also makes sure there is compatibility in communications and other equipment before a joint operation. It employs about 5,000 people in the Norfolk area and Virginia politicians as well as deficit hawks and military interests defenders were quick to criticize Gates and the Obama administration’s priorities. Gates says the changes are needed to patch up the military after nearly a decade of constant war and overseas deployment and to prepare for future conflicts.
Kiss and Make Up (Sort of)
The government of Colombia and Venezuela may not be Best Friends Forever but they are at least talking again. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has restored diplomatic relations with his neighbor to the West. Chavez, angered — and perhaps a little nervous — about Colombia’s closer ties with the U.S., broke diplomatic relations with Bogota two weeks ago when then-President Alvaro Uribe accused Chavez of harboring Colombia’s FARC rebels in Venezuela. Now Colombia has a new president, Juan Manuel Santos, who sat down with Chavez this week to begin hashing out their problems.
Iranian Shock Troops in Venezuela?
We were a little surprised near the end of the (July 27) Senate confirmation hearing for Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be the new head of U.S. Central Command when Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) brought up Venezuela.
LeMieux said he was very concerned about the connection between Iran and Venezuela including secret flights between the two countries and the presence of “Iranian shock troops in Venezuela.”
LeMieux, who was appointed last year to serve out the remaining term of Mel Martinez, has fretted often about Venezuela recently, calling President Hugo Chavez’s decision to break diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia “troubling” and complaining about “the deepening deterioration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela” along with six other senators in a July 21 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps even more surprising was Mattis’ answer, telling the Florida Republican “I register your concern” and adding “I have no argument with you.”
In April, a Pentagon report to Congress about Iran’s current and future military strategy noted the activities of an elite unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qod Force, to “clandestinely exert military, political and economic power to advance Iranian national interests abroad.” Those activities range from gathering intelligence to supplying training, arms and financial support to surrogate groups and terrorist organizations, according to the 12-page unclassified version of the report. Those groups include Hezbollah in Lebanon and HAMAS in Palestine.
The Qods Force is well-established in the Middle East and North Africa “and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela,” the Pentagon report said, noting that if the U.S. gets more involved in local conflicts in those regions, contact with the Qods Force “directly, or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.”
Chavez has denied there are any Iranian troops in his country, calling the Pentagon report “totally false.” Iran and Venezuela have developed close links since Chavez took office in 1999, but there have been no formal military cooperation deals.
And U.S. officials have denied Chavez’s claims that the U.S. is backing a potential attack on Venezuela by neighboring Colombia. Bogotá claims Chavez is giving sanctuary to Colombian rebels known by the acronym FARC.
To view the recorded Webcast of the Mattis confirmation hearing click here. LeMieux’s question comes near the end at 146 minutes and 12 seconds.
Chavez Sharpens Knife to Remove Own Nose
Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, has upped the ante in his war of words with leaders in Colombia. Last week, Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with his neighbor to the West when outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused Venezuela of providing a safe haven for Colombian rebels to launch attacks across the border.
Chavez, who has quarreled often with U.S. policy – especially during the Bush administration – is now threatening to cut off oil exports to the U.S. if Colombia launches an attack on Venezuela. He told a rally (July 25) that he would halt the oil – if there’s an American-backed attack on Venezuelan soil – even if it means his citizens have to “eat stones.”
While Venezuela is the fifth largest supplier of petroleum to the U.S., the U.S. is also Venezuela’s biggest customer, according to analysts, so Chavez’s strategy sounds a lot like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. About 50 percent of Venezuelan government revenue come from oil exports. Analysts also believe Chavez’s sabre-rattling is trying to divert Venezuelans’ attention away from the country’s poorly-performing economy.
The U.S. has denied any plans to support a strike Venezuela or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC is their acronym in Spanish). The rebel group has been waging a 30-year insurgency against the government in Bogota, Colombia’s capital.
Chavez is incensed that Uribe has broadcast videos showing purported rebel camps inside Venezuelan territory. He’s also worried because Uribe’s successor, President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, launched an attack on an FARC base in Ecuador when he was Colombia’s defense minister.
Chavez has also railed against Colombia for allowing the U.S. military access to some Colombian bases and the nearby Dutch-administered island of Curacao’s for accommodating U.S. drug trafficking surveillance flights.
Taking the Beach
About 600 marines and sailors from Southern Command and the 4th Fleet recently participated with troops from nine other nations in a large-scale amphibious exercise on the coast of Peru. Marines from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay — along with soldiers from the Canadian Army took part in Southern Exchange/Partnership of the Americas 2010 from July 1-25.
The U.S. Marines, mostly from Reserve units, included elements of the 24th Marine Regiment, the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Dental Battalion and the Marine Medium Lift Helicopter Squadron 764.
Supporting amphibious operations during the exercise was the USS New Orleans (LPD 18).
Here’s some information on the Belgian-designed F2000 assault rifle.