Archive for February 26, 2013

WASHINGTON: Senate Confirms New Defense Secretary

Obama’s Choice Approved

Now Leon Panetta can finally retire to his farm in California. The U.S. Senate today (Feb. 26) voted to approve — by a narrow margin — the nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel speaking in 2012. (Defense Dept. Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel speaking in 2012. (Defense Dept. Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

The Senate voted 58-to-41 to confirm Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam combat veteran, as the 24th Defense Secretary. It was the closest vote on a nominee for the Pentagon post since it was created in 1947, the New York Times reported.

The nomination was held up by his former Republican colleagues who staged a de facto fillibuster before Congress took a Washington’s Birthday break earlier this month.

In the end, only four Republicans voted for Hagel: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Times reported.

Hagel’s opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and sanctions against Iran earned him the enmity of conservatives. And comments critical of Israel’s influence on Capitol Hill and an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship created more enemies who sought to discredit him for what he had said or written in years past. Senate opponents also raised questions about whether — after leaving the Senate — he was paid by foreign governments and organizations hostile to the United States. No evidence was found.

The delay in Hagel’s nomination process forced Panetta to come back to Washington from an anticipated retirement to travel to a NATO defense ministers  meeting in Brussels this month. Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during service as an Army sergeant, and served as senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009. He is scheduled to be sworn in Feb. 27

February 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA Update: Mali, Meth in West Africa

Mostly Mali

Fierce fighting continues in northern Mali as French troops and their allies from Mali and Chad battle to clear violent Islamist extremists from mountain strongholds.

French troops supported Malin forces battling insurgents in Gao [see map below]Copyright Ministry of Defense

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in Gao [see map below]
Copyright French Ministry of Defense

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today (Feb. 26) that the fighting in the Ifoghas region – near the Algerian border – is targeting an area where the “most radical terrorist groups” have gone, according to the Voice of America.

Because of that, Le Drian says says it’s too soon to talk about withdrawing troops from the former French colony in West Africa, although costs of the nearly two-month intervention are growing.

The defense minister told France’s RTL radio that the French intervention in Mali has cost more than €100 million ($133 million), the Associated Press reported.

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

France began airstrikes Jan. 11 against insurgents that have seized control of almost half of Mali and were threatening Bamako, Mali’s capital. There are now about 4,000 French troops in Mali and Paris has said it wanted to pull them out as soon as the threat diminished — perhaps as soon as March.

Late last week, officials in Chad announced 13 of their soldiers had been killed and five wounded in fighting with the militants in northern Mali. Officials said 65 insurgents were also killed.

To see some striking Aljazeera photos of the fighting and its aftermath in the northern Mali town of Gao, click here.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Charles Koffy Diby says it will cost more than 700 million euros to pay for a multi-national West African military force to replace the French in Mali. The military option was approved in December by the United Nations Security Council and organized by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Mali and Ivory Coast.

The peacekeeping force is supposed to consist of 6,000 troops from ECOWAS countries and another 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member but borders Mali. More than 1,000 Chadian troops are already on the ground in Mali, as are contingents from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

According to the South African Press Association, Diby, whose country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship this year, estimated it would cost 715 million euros – more than twice the amount pledged by donor nations in January. Diby said the sum he had in mind took into account “the demands of an asymetrical war or a drawn-out conflict that the narco-terrorists … could bring about.”

Transnational Crime Threat

A United Nations report released today (Feb. 25) warns that the production of methamphetamine is on the rise in West Africa.

Powder meth in foil packet.(Justice Dept. photo)

Powder meth in foil packet.
(Justice Dept. photo)

While cocaine trafficking is the most lucrative criminal activity of transnational crime groups operating in the region, one “worrying development” is the emergence of meth production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The main market for West African-produced meth is East Asia, although it is also going to South Africa.  Income from West African-made meth “is remarkably high” for a product that’s new to the market, the report said, adding that competition from drug rings in East Asia is likely to cut into those profits in coming years.

Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says meth is an attractive product for West African criminals because it is easy to make, the Voice of America reported.  “You can do that in your kitchen, if you wish,” he said, adding: “You go on the internet, you get the recipe and you cook.”

Although the flow of cocaine out of West Africa peaked at 47 tons in 2007, officials believe cocaine trafficking is back up to 30 to 35 tons a year.

Much of that cocaine comes from Brazil where Nigerian crime groups are exporting the drug.  the report said, adding that those crime groups have been using containerized consignments and maritime shipping to smuggle the drugs. The small country of Benin on the West Coast of Africa is seeing more use as a departure point for air couriers headed for Europe, the report said.

The report also noted that while human trafficking between West Africa and Europe had declined in recent years, there are still problems with pirates off the coasts of Nigeria and Benin as well as trafficking in firearms and fraudulent medicines.

“The recent flood of 10,000 to 20,000 firearms from Libya does represent a serious threat to stability in the region, a threat that appears to have been realized in northern Mali,” the report said.

February 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment


February 2013


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