Archive for July, 2013

AROUND AFRICA: Somalia Attack, Elections in Mali, Togo

Turkish facility attacked

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

The Islamist militant group, al Shabaab, has claimed responsibility for a bombing at the Turkish Embassy compound in Somalia that killed at least five people including three suicide bombers, the Associated Press reports.

The Saturday (July 27) attack struck a building housing Turkish embassy staff in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. A Turkish security official and a Somali student were killed as well as the three militants, AP said. CNN International reports that a second Turkish security guard was dead.

Al Shabaab, which espouses an ultra strict form of Islam, has been linked to al Qaeda and other attacks in war-ravaged Somalia. Al Shebaab was driven out of Mogadishu two years ago by troops from Somalia and other African countries. But the militants have kept up guerrilla-style attacks and continue to control large rural areas of the East African country, according to Reuters.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, has been playing a big role in Somalia’s reconstruction, including street renovations and building new schools and hospitals, according to the AP and CNN.



Togo in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Togo in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

In the small West African nation of Togo, voters went to the polls Sunday (July 28) to elect their legislature. About 1,200 candidates competed for 91 seats in National Assembly.

The president of Togo’s electoral commission said late Sunday that provisional results show the ruling party increased its share of the legislature in the election — dealing a blow to opposition leaders who had hoped recent signs of discontent would translate into electoral gains, according to the Associated Press.

The electoral commission said the Union for the Republic party won 62 of 91 seats, up from 50 of the legislature’s then-81 seats in 2007.

There have been no elections to the National Assembly in the intervening six years, according to the Christian Science Monitor. And Sunday’s vote was seen as an important next step in the nation’s transition to full democracy.

One family has controlled the government since 1967 when Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema came to power through a coup and ruled for 38 years until his death in 2005. The military picked his son, Faure Gnassingbe, to rule the country of 7 million.

The opposition party leader, Gilchrist Olympio, is the son of Togo’s first post-independence president who was gunned down in 1963 by assassins outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital Lome.

* * *


War-ravaged Mali in West Africa began electing a president Sunday (July 28). According to the Voice of America, there are 27 candidates ranging from several former prime ministers to a geologist with little political experience and a woman from the northern part of the country who stood up to Tuareg rebels and militant Islamists.

The French intervention in the Malian crisis began in January. (Copyright: French Defense Ministry)

The French intervention in the Malian crisis began in January.
(Copyright: French Defense Ministry)

Mali, once one of West Africa’s few successful democracies, plunged into chaos when Tuareg mercenaries – returning from fighting for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafy – launched the latest in a series of revolts in the country’s desert north. That led to a military coup ousting the democratically-elected president.

The army revolt in Bamako, the nation’s capital emboldened the Tuaregs who swept over the Texas-sized northern half of the country – backed by Islamic extremists from in and out of Mali. At the request of the government in Bamako, French air and ground forces intervened, driving the rebels back into the mountains before they could seize the capital.

France, the former colonial ruler, said the intervention was necessary to keep the country from turning into a safe haven for terrorists to attack targets in Europe.

Mali has nearly 7 million registered voters but voter turnout has never exceeded 40 percent, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

July 29, 2013 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 26, 2013)

Just Say ‘Ahh’

(U.. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller)

(U.. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller)

Capt. Abby Raymond, brigade dentist for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, looks over the shoulder of an Afghan National Army medic as he performs an oral exam on a fellow commando, during a basic dental class at Forward Operating Base Thunder. FOB Thunder is located in Paktya Province in Afghanistan.

U.S. and coalition troops are scheduled to turn over security responsibilities for the entire country to the Afghan National Army by the end of 2014.

To see a photo slide show of this training class, click here.

July 26, 2013 at 12:09 am Leave a comment

HUMAN GEOGRAPHY: Cultural Awareness Needs Cited at Security Forum

In The Know

ASPEN, Colorado – Here at 4GWAR, we’ve written about the topic of Human Geography numerous times before. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how often that concept – if not the actual phrase – came up in discussions at the Aspen Security Forum in the Rocky Mountains last week.

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

Human Geography is a multi-discipline study of not only the physical nature of the earth but the people who live on it and how they relate among themselves and with others along political, economic, cultural, linguistic and geographic lines.

The need for cultural awareness and background knowledge of people and places where the United States may conduct future military and humanitarian operations came up several times during the four-day annual gathering of defense and homeland security experts from government, academia and the corporate world.

With U.S. combat activities in Iraq over, and ending soon in Afghanistan, speakers and panels discussed the new challenges facing the United States.

“You really gotta know the place,” said Ambassador Rick Barton, assistant secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, describing the complexity of sorting out potential partners among the scores of opposition groups in the Syrian civil war. Time, effort and money need to be spent on acquiring the right intelligence, he added. “If you’re really going to be effective in a place, you’ve really got to have a sense of the context and the balance” he said during a panel discussion on the U.S. role in preventing conflicts.

Speaking on the same panel, Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) – which oversees the Green Berets, Navy Seals and other special operations forces – said cultural awareness (one of the key aspects of human geography studies) was a key to training partner nations to defend themselves against terrorists. “When we put people into a country they need to speak the language, they need to be culturally aware of what’s going,” McRaven said. But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan many of those skill sets have eroded for other parts of the world. “So we are reinvigorating the language programs and reinvigorating the cultural awareness programs,” he said. SOCOM units, like SEAL teams, will be realigned within the various regional combatant commands such as Africa Command and Pacific Command “so that the right people will speak the right languages and understand the right cultures,” McRaven added.

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops near Bamako, Mali.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops during a 2008 exercise near Bamako, Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

“The problem, of course is the way Americans always come into a country with which there is enormous cultural difference. They don’t always appreciate cultural difference,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told another panel discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of 20-something troops and contractors “not knowing how to be deferential to the elders, not knowing how to deal with the mullahs, not understanding the sectarian and religious concentrations.”

And the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham (ret.) noted “it’s a particular challenge in Africa, because of the diversity of cultures and languages” as well as religious, ethnic and tribal distinctions. “We have a long way to go,” he said. But he also noted that the assistance of experienced foreign service and U.S.AID officers has helped in the past and McRaven’s promised deployment of special operations forces with cultural skills tailored to the regional combatant commands’ area of responsibility will help in the future.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

In a story out this week in Special Operations Technology magazine, your 4GWAR editor examines how special operators are combining new technology and old skills in human geography for missions like foreign internal defense and civil affairs operations. The explosion of social networking and geospatial imagery on the Internet has added many new tools for human geographers and intelligence gatherers. To read more, visit Special Operations Technology magazine, by clicking here.

July 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (On Saturday, July 20, 2013)

Falcon Inspection

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas)

To our way of thinking this is a job that requires a lot of skill, flexibility and confidence–  that the aircraft is secure and can’t be fired up. Exhibiting all those traits here is Senior Airman Nate Hall as he conducts a post-flight inspection on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Hall is an aircraft maintainer assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He’s inspecting the aircraft for leaks, cracks or anything that may jeopardize its integrity.


We apologize for the delayed posting of this week’s Friday Foto until today. Technical difficulties (network problems) foiled our attempts to file it from Aspen, Colorado until this morning.

July 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Pentagon officials say they’re plugging Snowden Leaks

Cleaning up after Snowden

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter answers questions at Aspen Security Forum (Defense Dept. photo)

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter answers questions at the Aspen Security Forum (Defense Dept. photo)

ASPEN, Colorado – Two top Defense Department leaders say the National Security Agency (NSA) is taking several steps to secure its data following the embarrassing revelation of two U.S. secret surveilance programs by a rogue NSA contractor.

Both Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told the Aspen Security Forum Thursday (today) that the intelligence gathering agency would be changing how it stored sensitive data and who would be allowed access to it.

Carter told the annual national and homeland security gathering in Aspen, Colo. that the release of classified information by the contractor, Edward Snowden, was a failure to protect the military’s own cyber networks. “I’ll tell you right now, the damage itself was very significant,” he added. Asked if the information Snowden had transported out of the country was “a lot,” the Alexander replied “Yes.” He said NSA had “concrete proff that terrorist groups are taking action, making changes” in the wake of the information revealed by the Snowden leaks.

Carter called for measures to remove what he calleed “the root causes” of the Snowden failure: too much classified information stored in one place and a single employee with unsupervised access to that data. He suggested a system similar to that used in handling nuclear weapons – a “two-man rule” – where no single person can access a nuclear bomb.

Alexander said changes like that and closed and locked server rooms that can only be accessed by two people working together “makes our job more difficult.” He urged moving to a joint information environment where data can be encrypted, so if stolen, it would be useless to thieves and spies.

“We also have to ensure that people who need information to do their job have access to that information,” he said, adding that both needs have to be balanced and since the Snowden leak occurred on NSA’s watch the agency would oversee the changes for both the Defense Department and the larger federal intelligence community.

4GWAR is in Aspen, Colorado this week, covering the Aspen Security Forum.

July 19, 2013 at 1:57 am Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Mexican Drug Lord Captured

Zetas Kingpin

The leader of the notorious Mexican drug gang, the Zetas, has been captured by the Mexican military near the border with Texas, officials announced late Monday (July 15).

(U.S. State Department)

(U.S. State Department)

Miguel Trevino Morales was wanted by Mexican and U.S.. authorities. Both countries posted multi-million dollar rewards for him. Known as Z-40, he was captured by Mexican Marines using a helicopter, who intercepted him in a pickup truck outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, according to the Associated Press. Morales and two others, believed to be an accountant and a bodyguard, were taken into custody along with $2 million in cash and eight guns.

Trevino Morales is the highest-ranking crime boss taken down since President Eneique Pena Nieto took office in December, according to the BBC. More than 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since December 2006.

Pena Nieto promised to change the policy of the previous government by tackling cartels through law enforcement on a local level rather than the capture of big-name targets. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, had deployed the army across the country and pursued cartel leaders. That policy eliminated many senior criminal figures, but it also created power vacuums that helped fuel the violence.

The Zetas have been linked to some of the most violent crimes in Mexico’s battle with drug cartels, including massacres of immigrants passing through Mexico on their way to the United States and a casino fire that killed 52 people in Monterrey in 2011.

The Zetas originally were deserters from Mexico’s special operations forces hired as bodyguards and enforcers by the Gulf Cartel. But they split off to form their own gang in 2007 and have terrified Mexico –especially along the U.S. border — with unbelievable violence and brutality – including torture, beheadings and massacres, the Los Angeles Times reported.

July 16, 2013 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Secretary Napolitano Moving On

Heading to California

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is stepping down as head of the department to head the University of California system.

Janet Napolitano (Photo courtesy oif the Department of Homeland Security)

Janet Napolitano (Department of Homeland Security photo)

Napolitano – a former U.S. Attorney in Arizona and governor of that state – took over the third-largest U.S. Cabinet department (after Defense and Veterans Affairs) in January 2009. During her tenure she oversaw the response to Hurricane Sandy and Irene. he is always , and decided to ditch the idea of a multi-billion virtual security fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

After four years and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the DHS plan to pepper the 700-mile border with surveillance cameras and sensors, the program managed to cover about 50 miles in Arizona, so Napolitano pulled the plug.

Napolitano was also criticized for a number of issues confronted by DHS, including what some called “intrusive” passenger searches at U.S. airports and record numbers of illegal aliens repatriated to their home countries.

Napolitano’s announcement is here. She is expected to leave DHS in September.

Within hours of her announcement, the chattering class in Washington was speculating on who would replace Napolitano as overseer of the hudge agency which includes Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Department of Homeland Security seal

Department of Homeland Security seal

Among the names being bandied about are:

Thad Allen, former Coast Guard commandant who oversaw the cleanup and response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico;

Raymond Kelly, head of New York City’s police department – the largest in the country — and former head of the U.S. Customs Service;

William Bratton, former head of the police departments in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles.

Other names include former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration.

July 15, 2013 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 12, 2013)

A Different Kind of Fire Support

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers from th 6th Khandak, 3rd Brigade, 203rd Corps Afghan National Army added 60mm mortar systems to their entourage of armaments and recieve assistance from Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment on how to operate their new equipment, 07 July 2013. The 6th Khandak mortarmen were already well-versed with firing systems of other variations; this light and highly mobile system allows them to shoot, move and communicate with improved haste. With the assistance of the 1-87 Infantry Soldiers, they were able to hit every target fo the day.  (Photo taken by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Foss)

 (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Foss)


Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division  show an Afghan soldier how to operate a 60mm mortar system during training in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, July 7, 2013. Afghan soldiers from the 6th Khandak, 3rd Brigade, 203rd Corps Afghan National Army recently added 60mm mortar systems to their armament inventory. The U.S. troops are from the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. Click on the photo to enlarge the image.

Editor’s Note: The 60mm mortar can be dangerous if not properly operated. In March seven Marines were killed during a training exercise when a 60mm round exploded.

To see how the trainees did, click here for a photo slideshow.

July 12, 2013 at 5:20 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: China-Nigeria Deal, Obama-Africa, Food Security,

Billion Dollar Deal

Nigeria (CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

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.

* * * *

Obama in Africa

Crowds watch President Obama's motorcade in Tanzania. (White House photo)

Crowds watch President Obama’s motorcade in Tanzania. (White House photo)

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.

* * * *

Food Security Threat

Uganda via CIA World Factbook

Uganda via CIA World Factbook

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.”


July 12, 2013 at 4:31 am Leave a comment

LESSONS LEARNED: Controlling Wasteful Spending in Iraq, Afghanistan

Catching White Elephants

Can't give it away.

Can’t give it away.

By now you’ve probably heard or read about the $34 million military headquarters building at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan that probably won’t ever be used by U.S. troops.

But maintaining the 64,000-square foot, air conditioned windowless building – equipped with modern office space, work stations and an auditorium — is probably too expensive for the Afghans to handle so the brand new building may be demolished by departing U.S. forces.

But wait, there’s more. Less than four months after the Army asked Congress to fund the huge command center, the local Marine Corps commander said it wasn’t needed and made a request – in May 2010 – to cancel the project. In February 2011, however, the Air Force issued a construction contract to build the facility, which Uncle Sam took possession of in November 2012, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR is a government agency created by Congress to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan reconstruction programs.

The unused $34 million headquarters building in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of SIGAR)

The unused $34 million headquarters building in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of SIGAR)

“Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped,” Special Inspector General John Sopko, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the commander of U.S. Central Command – which includes Afghanistan; and the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Sopko said he was also troubled by the options of either “destroying a never-occupied, never-used building or turning over what may be a ‘white elephant’ to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.” You can read his letter here.

Meanwhile, another special inspector general for reconstruction – this time in Iraq – has a recommendation to avoid future money-wasting boondoggles. In testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday (July 9) Stuart Bowen Jr., urged creation of a U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) to concentrate authority over relief and reconstruction efforts into a single office that would report to both the secretaries of Defense and State – as well as the president’s National Security Advisor.

Now there is no executive branch department with the primary responsibility for carrying out relief and reconstruction activities, Bowen said, noting that Congress has appropriated $60 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction over the last 10 years and his office has recovered more than $200 million through waste and fraud investigations. Instead of a single office, the stabilization operations are just add-ons to the work already being done by the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Current geopolitical events make the need for a reform like USOCO quite compelling,” Bowen said in written testimony for the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, adding “a number of fragile states, including Syria, could soon require integrated stabilization and reconstruction assistance.”

A bill that would create USOCO and assure that the government is preparing for the next stabilization and reconstruction operation ahead of time has been introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas).

July 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm 3 comments

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