Archive for February, 2014

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (February 28, 2014)

A Study in Concentration

(U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger

(U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger

Waiting to embark on an airborne exercise, U.S. Army Capt. Lindsey Ryan sits in full parachute harness familiarizing herself with a training manual. The captain is a paratrooper assigned to the Brigade Support Battalion of the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne). The Sky Soldiers, in conjunction with paratroopers with the Polish 6th Airborne Brigade, conducted the exercise at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany on February 20, 2014.

Click here to see more photos of the paratroopers in action. Here’s their Facebook page.

And if you speak Polish, here is the 6th Airborne Brigade’s Facebook page. Good photos even if you don’t mówi po polsku. BTW, if you’ve seen the World War II film “A Bridge Too Far,” about the massive 1944 Allied parachute drop into the Netherlands, you’ve seen the antecedents of the Polish paratroops and their leader, Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski (played by Gene Hackman in the movie.)

February 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 28, 2014)

Inside the Osprey

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Austin Schlosser)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Austin Schlosser)

U.S. Marines and Royal Thai Marines sit in an MV-22B Osprey as part of fast execution training during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014 in Utapao, Thailand.

Cobra Gold, the largest and oldest military exercise in Southeast Asia, originally started as a training exercise to strengthen the relationship, mission readiness and interoperability between troops of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States. This year, the 33rd iteration of Cobra Gold, the United States and Thailand welcomed participants from Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and, for the first time, the People’s Republic of China.

The exercise included an amphibious operations, helicopter assault, disaster site evacuation and training with live ammunition, according to the Pattaya Mail.  The U.S. Marines seen here are with 2nd platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

To see what the Osprey tilt rotor aircraft looks like from the outside and other photos of the exercise, click here.

February 28, 2014 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

DEFENSE: Why They’re Re-thinking the LCS Fleet

Trying Something New

The U.S. Navy has a nearly silent TV commercial that notes 70 percent of the world is covered by water, 80 percent of the people in the world live near water and 90 percent of all trade around the world travels by water.

The ad concludes with a massive aircraft carrier cruising past. Get the message?

But the Navy and the Marine Corps have both acknowledged that a lot of those people living near water reside in cities on the coast or along rivers where big ships can’t go. In future conflicts that could pose an access problem.

The Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California in 2013. The Freedom variant of LCS is built by Lockheed Martin.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Evans)

The Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California in 2013. The Freedom variant of LCS is built by Lockheed Martin. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Evans)

The solution was supposed to be the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – a vessel small and light enough to naviagte shallow coastal waters, but carrying enough armament to do the jobs of chasing submarines and clearing away mines in “premissive environments” where the opposition isn’t packing a lot firepower — think: pirate strongholds and failed states without an air force or long range missiles.

Since the $32 billion program began in 2002, the LCS development has encountered numreous problems including cost overruns and a complex competition that led to construction of two separate designs by Lockheed Martin and Austal (an Australian company). There have also been firepower, crew manning and vulnerability issues. Critics say it is too lightly armed and armored to survive battle in a contested area, like the waters off China or North Korea.

“LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat,” according to a 2013 report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because the LCS design requirements do not include “survivability features necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants.”

Facing severe post-Afghanistan budget cuts, the Pentagon wants to stop acquisition of both versions of the ship – at 32 vessels instead of the planned 52.

The USS Independence (LCS 2) off the coast of Southern California in 2012. The trimaran variant is built by Austal. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jan Shultis)

The USS Independence (LCS 2) off the coast of Southern California in 2012. The trimaran variant is built by Austal.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jan Shultis)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday (February 24) that he was concerned the Navy was “relying too heavily on the LCS” to achieve its long-term goals for expanding the size of the fleet to 300 ships to meet demands for global presence.

“We need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific,” Hagel said, noting that if the program is allowed to grow to 52 ships, the lightly armed LCS would represent one-sixth of the future 300-ship Navy.

“Given continued fiscal restraints, we must direct future shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict,” Hagel concluded.

So he’s directed the Navy to submit alternative proposals for procuring “a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.

Those proposals — to include a completely new design, existing ship designs and a modified LCS design — are due back to Hagel later this year in time for planning next year’s budget request.

The initial version of the of the Oliver Hazard Perry- class  guided missile frigate (FFG-7). (1979 U.S. Navy file photo)

The initial version of the of the Oliver Hazard Perry- class guided missile frigate (FFG-7).
(1979 U.S. Navy file photo)

Speaking at a defense industry conference in Washington today, Admiral James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the decision, calling it smart “to look at what else can we do” with the existing two LCS designs “or with a different concept to make sure we are covered in the future..”

However the new vessel turns out, Winnefeld told Bloomberg’s BGOV Defense Summit, he thinks there is great potential for it to perform additional jobs, including strike and special operations missions, as well as offering a potential platform for the Marines.

But the admiral indicated it was too soon to count the LCS out completely. “I think the LCS is going through it’s V-22 phase,” he said, harking back to the criticisms of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft during its development, especially after several fatal crashes.

From Africa to Afghanistan to East Asia, V-22s are now very popular with area commanders. “There’s a demand signal out there in the real world today – I wish I could tell you all about it – for V-22s. I wish we had more out there,” Winnefeld said.


Our friend and colleague, Aviation Week’s Mike Fabey, is the winner of the 2014 Timothy White Award, given by the American Business Media association to a journalist who demonstrates “bravery, integrity, passion and quality of product.” Fabey, Aviation Week’s Naval Editor, was cited for his work detailing design, fabrication and operational problems with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.  To see more, click here.


February 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

DEFENSE: Good News for Special Ops, Bad News for Warthogs

Pentagon’s 2015 Budget: Dropping the First Shoe

Updates with Sen. Ayotte comments

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today (February 24) outlined the painful cuts to programs and reductions in the armed services imposed by Congressional budget cutters.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
(Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Under the Bi-Partisan Budget Act passed by Congress in December, defense spending is capped at roughly $496 billion for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 – forcing the Pentagon to come up with more than $75 billion in cuts over the two-year period, Hagel said.

He noted those cuts come on top of “the $37 billion cut we took last year and the Budget Control Act’s 10-year reductions of $487 billion.” If sequestration-level cuts remain the law for Fiscal Year 2016 and beyond, more cuts will have to be made, Pentagon officials said.

Starting in Fiscal 2015 [October 1, 2014-September 30, 2015], the Army will see a large reduction in size over five years – down to pre-World War II numbers, 440,000 to 450,000 – and the Navy can expect to see the number of cruisers and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) drop. The Air Force is dropping some of its tactical aircraft inventory, including its 40-year-old A-10 close air support jets and U-2 spy planes as cost savings measures.

But the Pentagon continues to see a need for increasing the size of Special Operations Forces. In the 2015 budget request to Congress, Defense Department leaders are choosing to reduce troop strength and force structure in all of the military services, “in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority” and to “protect critical capabilities like Special Operations Forces and cyber sources,” Hagel said.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The 2015 budget seeks to increase the number of personnel serving in Special Operations Command by 3,700 to 69,700, Hagel said, to protect “capabilities uniquely suited to the most likely missions of the future” counter terrorism and crisis response. That’s more than double the 33,000 SOF complement in 2001.

To protect “higher priorities” like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, new aerial refueling tanker and long range strike bomber programs in this era of fiscal austerity, the Air Force plans to eliminate the entire A-10 Thunderbolt fleet. Called the “Warthog” for its stubby appearance, punishment-taking air frame and lethal armament, the 1970s era A-10 is best known for effective close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Air Force can save $3.5 billion over five years by retiring the 300-plus A-10 fleet rather than upgrade it, said Hagel. The move would also speed up Air Force plans to replace the A-10s with the F-35 in the early 2020s.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Willard E. Grande II)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Willard E. Grande)

Hagel said it was a tough decision to eliminate the beloved A-10. But he noted it was a “40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield.” The A-10, which can fly low and slow to provide covering fire for ground troops “cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” Hagel said. And the Pentagon believes the advent of precision munitions means there are more types of aircraft to provide effective close air support – a point A-10 advocates and several members of Congress dispute.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, was quick to criticize the move.

“The Pentagon’s decision to recommend the early retirement of the A-10 before a viable replacement achieves full operational capabability is a serious mistake based on poor analyses and bad assumptions,” said Ayotte, who has been battling Pentagon efforts to ground the Warthogs. “Instead of cutting its best and least expensive close air support aircraft in an attempt to save money, the Air Force could achieve similar savings elsewhere in its budget without putting our troops at increased risk,” she added.

In addition to the A-10, the Air Force also plans to retire the 50-year-old U-2 high altitude spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk system. But the Air Force is also slowing the growth of its unmanned aircraft inventory. “While effective against insurgents and terrorists,” UAVs “cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses,” Hagel said.

The actual budget numbers for each service and program – the other shoe, if you will – will drop next week (March 4) when the White House releases the president’s full budget request. And then the “fun” will begin when Congress weighs in.

February 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 23 – March 1)

Court Martial

William Hull (xxxxxxxxxxxxxx)

William Hull
(Colonial Society of Massachusetts)

Winter 1814: Indian leader Tecumseh and British General Isaac Brock are dead … Fort Detroit, which they captured in 1812 through subterfuge and bravado, is back in U.S. hands … and American General William Hull, who surrendered Detroit without a fight, is on trial for his life.

After surrendering Detroit in August 1812, Hull is first transported to Montreal as a prisoner of war before being returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange.

In January 1814 Hull’s court-martial began in Albany, New York. On January 17, he pleaded not guilty to charges of treason.

Witnesses – mostly subordinates who had been infuriated when Hull surrendered—testified that he had seemed panicky and distracted during the brief siege. It was noted that in addition to more than 2,000 troops – most of them Ohio and Michigan militia – Hull’s surrender presented the British with more than 3,000 muskets, 37 cannons and other ordnance, 400 rounds of twenty-four-pound solid cannon balls and 100,000 cartridges.

It turned out Hull had surrendered to a smaller force. Brock had only 700 British regulars and militia and about 600 Indians. But through ruse and bluff, he led Hull to believe he faced a far larger force (the Indians marched past the same gap in the woods three times loudly shouting war cries.

The Surrender of Detroit by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster.

The Surrender of Detroit by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster.

Brock had also captured a Detroit-bound ship that carried Hull’s personal possessions, including his papers and war plans. He know U.S. morale was low and the Americans feared the Indians after troops and civilians evacuating Fort Dearborn in Illinois Territory (the site of present day Chicago), were attacked and massacred by Indians.

Hull’s supply lines had been cut, he had poor communications with Washington and Secretary of War William Eustis. His troops were mostly poorly trained and unruly militiamen and volunteers. Th head of the Army, General Henry Dearborn had been slow to launch other attacks into Canada to take some of the pressure off Hull. Dearborn presided over the court-martial.

The final straw in the capture of Detroit probably came when Brock sent a letter to Hull warning that the Indians with the British “will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences.” In other words, surrender or I’ll turn the Indians loose and who knows what savagery that might unleash. There were women and children at Fort Detroit, including Hull’s own children and grandchildren.

Hull about 1800

Hull about 1800

A Revolutionary War veteran who had fought bravely at White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Saratoga and other battles, the 60-year-old Hull had been territorial governor of Michigan and originally turned down command of the Army of the Northwest.

Compounding his bad luck, papers Hull believed could exonerate him were burned up when the ship carrying them was attacked by the British. The trial will continue until late March.

February 24, 2014 at 12:17 am Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Top Mexican Drug Lord Captured

Got Shorty

Mexican and U.S. authorities have arrested the world’s most powerful narcotics kingpin – Joaquin Guzman Loera, the Associated Press reported early Saturday (February 21).

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera (DEA wanted circular)

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera
(DEA wanted circular)

Known as “El Chapo Guzman” (Shorty Guzman), the billionaire drug lord headed Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and was wanted by authorities on both sides of the border since he escaped from Mexican custody in 2001.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official told the AP that Guzman was taken overnight by Mexican marines without any shots being fired in the beach report town of Mazatilan. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the arrest and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Marshals Service were “heavilly involved” in Guzman’s capture.

Guzman became infamous in 2001 after escaping from a high security prison and building up the Sinaloa Cartel – named for his home state and known for beheading its enemies or hanging their bodies in public places, said Bloomberg News, adding that a retired top DEA official said Guzman’s arrest is “100 percent confirmed.” Mike Vigil, a retired head of DEA’s international operations spoke with Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Washington.

Another former DEA official told CNN that arrest represents a huge blow to the Sinaloa cartel’s operations.

Phil Jordan, who headed the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center, told the cable network: “if you talk to any cartel member, they’ll say that he’s more powerful than Mexican President [Enrique] Pena Nieto. This would be a significant blow to overall operations not only in the Americas, but Chapo Guzman had expanded to Europe. He was all over the place.”

But the 30-year DEA veteran cautioned that the arrest will only stay significant if Guzman is “extradited immediately to the United States.” He added: “If he is, in fact, incarcerated, until he gets extradited to the United States, it will be business as usual.”

February 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 21, 2014)

Ride Hike the High Country

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie)

Lance Corporal Eleanor Roper hauls a Marine Corps Cold Weather Infantry Kit sled during a field exercise at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.

Roper is a field radio operator with Ragnarok Company, 2nd Supply Battalion of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group.

The 228 Marines and sailors with Ragnarok Company, 2nd Supply Battalion of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, conducted cold-weather mobility training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center between January 14 and 28.

It’s all in preparation for the upcoming NATO exercise, Cold Response 2014, next month in Norway. The biennial exercise, hosted by the Norwegian Armed Forces will run from March 10 to 21.Some 16,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen from 16 countries are expected to participate this year, according to the Barents Observer. Last time, participating countries included Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Britain and France.

“The main thing is getting used to operating in extreme cold-weather environments and getting the benefits of the opportunity to train in the mountains, train our basic rifleman skills and provide logistics for 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines,” said 1st Lt. Owen Trotman, a platoon commander and assistant operations officer with Ragnarok Company.

For more photos, click here.

BTW, we don’t know the significance of the Marine company’s name, except Ragnarok was Norse mythology’s version of the “Twilight of the Gods.” In short, the end of the world after a tremendous battle. And some believers say the Viking apocalypse will happen this weekend.

February 21, 2014 at 12:38 am 1 comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Shoe Bomb Threat Warning

It’s Not Over, Yet

TSA photo via Wikipedia

TSA photo via Wikipedia

The Department of Homeland Security is warning airlines about a possible shoe bombing threat from overseas. The warning was first reported by NBC News.

While there is no specific threat, DHS said Wednesday (February 19) that it was issuing a warning based on “very recent intelligence” considered credible that assailants would try to attack passenger jets using explosives hidden in shoes, according to the Voice of America.

VOA noted it was the second time in three months that the U.S. Government had issued a warning about possible attempts to smuggle explosives on a commercial jetliner.

But USA Today reported that the warning is not related to an earlier alert about threats to planes flying to Russia for the Winter Olympic Games. The warning, which involved possible explosives concealed in toothpaste tubes, led the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban all liquids and gels from the carry-on luggage of passengers bound for Russia from the United States.

Richard Reid explosive shoe (FBI file photo)

Richard Reid explosive shoe
(FBI file photo)

TSA airport screeners have been checking air passengers’ shoes since late 2001 after an attempt by a British man to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe on an American Airlines Boeing 767 flight from Paris to Miami. Richard Reid, a self-proclaimed al Qaeda operative was subdued by passengers and cabin personnel when he failed to ignite the explosives packed into his shoes. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

A former CIA official and CBS security analyst says the latest warning causes him concern. Mike Morell, a former deputy CIA director told CBS This Morning that the fact terrorists appear to be using shoe bombs again is “worrisome” because it suggests “that they may have found a way around the screening that is currently done on shoes.”

Other security experts have said that al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups are still fixated on bombing aircraft. In addition to the Reid attempt, bombs were found secreted in air cargo in Europe and the Middle East in 2010; in a passenger’s underwear on a flight bound for Detroit in 2009. And in 2006, British officials broke up an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid components to be smuggled on board the aircrfaft and combined into an explosive while the plane was in the air. That led TSA to ban all liquids and gels from passengers’ carry-on luggage and then loosen the ban to allow containers carry up to 3 ounces of liquids.

February 20, 2014 at 6:07 pm 1 comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM’s Future Technology Needs

What Do Special Operators Want?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The big money defense budgets of the past decade have come to an end. And thanks to additional across-the-board cuts imposed by Congress, each of the armed services is being asked to find even more programs, platforms and procedures to cut.

So what do Special Operations Forces (SOF) – who depend in part on the other services’ capabilities – need to do their job in this austere funding environment?

Well the No. 3 commissioned officer at U.S. Special Operations Command cited some technology needs in a question-and-answer session at last week’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association in Washington.

There’s always a need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies – especially for sensors that can see through foliage in places like Africa and South America, Air Force Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold, SOCOM’s vice commander, told industry representatives.

“Our focus is on high definition. That’s a game changer for us,” Heithold said, adding that “We’re in the business of man hunting – whether to kill someone or capture them – so the fidelity that we get from our sensors is very important.”

He said SOCOM was in the process of modifying its fixed wing and unmanned aircraft with updated signals intelligence capabilities. “I don’t think we have a gap there, but it’s a game you’ve got to be in all the time. You can’t fall behind,” Heithold said.

Major General Mark Clark, commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), said the command was “absolutely” looking at a Joint High Speed Vessel, for a MARSOC maritime platform — as long as it could accommodate MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft or helicopters; operate in the littoral environment and include SOF equipment modules “so you can put them on or take them off.”

Modularity for SOCOM aircraft was also important, said Richard Holcomb, civilian deputy to the commanding general of Army Special Operations Command. Modular ISR, strike and air drop packages for Special Ops aviation assets “are clearly the way of our vision [going] forward,” he said. Army experts are also exploring how to arm the Osprey tiltrotor. Another area needing future study is non-lethal capabilities like directed energy, Heithold said.

USS Greeneville, a Los Angeles-class U.S. submarine, with the SEAL Delivery System attached.  (U.S. Navy photo)

USS Greeneville, a Los Angeles-class U.S. submarine, with the SEAL Delivery System attached.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Undersea mobility is another crucial technology, Heithold added. While progress is being made with the Advanced Seal Delivery System, a mini undersea vessel to transport Navy SEALS from a submerged submarine to shore, he urged industry to come forward with any technology that might help. SOF’s stealthy capability, “our true magic,” Heithold called it, “is going to be our ability to infiltrate and ex-filtrate from the sea – under the sea.”

And, as we posted last week, Heithold said the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) is the top acquisition priority. SOCOM commander, Admiral William McRaven, “is way focused on that,” said Heithold, noting that McRaven very much wants to protect “the first person through the door” during a raid or night action.

February 20, 2014 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA Update: Sectarian Violence in C.A.R., Nigeria; Piracy Report; Uganda’s Oil,


Updates with new information about EU contingent, planning, proposed use of surveillance drones.

Christian Vs. Muslim CAR

Central African Republic (CIA World Factbook)

Central African Republic
(CIA World Factbook)

France is sending 400 more troops to former colony Central African Republic (CAR) as a wave of sectarian violence sweeps across the Texas-sized country.

The first task of European Union troops, who are also being committed to peacekeeping in the CAR, will be to create a safe haven area in the capital city, Bangui, the commander said Monday (February 17), Reuters reported.

Major General Philippe Ponties told a Brussels news conference that the EU force also plans to use surveillance drones in the CAR — provided EU governments are prepared to supply them. In previous  United Nations peacekeeping missions to Africa, Irish and Belgian troops have used unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The U.N. last year authorized the purchase of two unmanned air vehicles for deployment with peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The surge in French troops will boost their number to about 2,000, according to the Voice of America. There are also about 5,000 troops from various nations belonging to the African Union. The United States has provided airlift support to bring some of those forces into the country. Last week, the European Union voted to send about 500 troops to bolster peacekeeping efforts in CAR, where thousands may have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled into neighboring Cameroon and Chad, creating an international refugee crisis, according to the United Nations.

French and African troops began a major operation last week to disarm local militias, known as the anti-balaka. The militias are accused of revenge attacks against Muslim neighborhoods in the capital Bangui and elsewhere around the country.

The chaos began last March when a largely Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka came down from the northern part of the CAR, overthrew the government, and began brutal attacks on the neighborhoods and villages of the majority Christian population, killing and looting as they went.

That sparked a backlash by the Christians who formed vigilante groups called anti-balaka (for anti-machete). The anti-balaka degenerated into revenge killers who looted and burned Muslim areas. Now some two thousand people are dead and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, have been driven out into the countryside or over the border.

Muslim Vs. Christian Nigeria

Nigeria's location (CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

There have been renewed attacks and mass killings in two villages and a town in northeastern Nigeria, where the government has been battling an insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

Authorities and villagers say the group was responsible for an attack Saturday (February 15) on the village of Izghe, near the border with Cameroon, that left more than 100 slain – either shot or hacked to death, according to the BBC.

Boko Haram fighters attacked the town of Konduga earlier this month and killed 51 people, Reuters reported. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered extra troops into northeast Nigeria to try and crush the insurgents, who want to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim, but Boko Haram retreated into a remote area, bordering Cameroon, from where they have mounted numerous attacks, said Reuters.

And CNN reported that militants also attacked Doron Baga, a fishing village along Lake Chad. A survivor told CNN gunmen fired indiscriminately, stole foodstuff, fish and vehicles before setting fire to the village. A Nigerian official confirmed the attack but couldn’t give details, saying it occurred in an area under the jurisdiction of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). Consisting of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, the MJTF was created in 1998 to battle weapons proliferation in the region but is now also battling the Boko Haram insurgency, CNN said.

Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden” in the north’s Hausa language, has killed hundreds of Christians and Muslims in the north since it launched its campaign of mass violence against the government in 2009. The U.S. State Department labeled Boko Haram a terrorist group last year. The continuing violence and the Army’s inability to eliminate Boko Haram as a threat poses a major political headache for Jonathan, who faces re-election next year, Reuters noted.

Nigeria is the most-populous nation in Africa and one of its biggest oil exporters.


Piracy Update

East Africa (Map courtesy of

East Africa (Map courtesy of

Piracy at sea has dropped to its lowest level in six years – largely because of a decrease in incidents off the Horn of Africa, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

IMB’s annual global piracy report says there were 264 pirate attacks reported around the world in 2013, a 40 percent drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Only 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011.

Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the IMB, says “the single biggest reason” for the drop in worldwide piracy in 2013 “is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa.” IMB says Somali pirates were deterred by a combination of factors including patrols by international navies, building anti-pirate features into vessels, the use of private armed security teams and increased stability (a relative term here) brought by Somalia’s central government.

For more than two decades, Somalia has been considered a failed state with widespread lawless activity, warring factions and extreme poverty.

While the situation is improving on the East Coast of Africa, piracy has been on the rise of the West Coast of the continent. Nineteen percent of worldwide pirate attacks last year occurred off West Africa. In 2009 there were 48 actual or attempted attacks in the waters off West Africa. That rose to 62 in 2012 and dropped slightly to 52 last year.

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

In 2013, Nigerian pirates and armed robbers committed 31 of the region’s 51 attacks, taking 49 people hostage. Worldwide, more than 300 people were taken hostage. Nigerian pirates have ranged as far south as Gabon and as far west as Ivory Coast. They were linked to five of the region’s seven vessel hijackings. Just a few days after IMB issued its report in January, a Greek-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker was reported hijacked off the coast of Angola by pirates who allegedly stole a large part of the cargo. But the Angolan Navy disputes the crew’s story.

The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has been monitoring world piracy since 1991.e


Oil Deal

Uganda has reached an agreement with three international oil companies to develop the East African country’s petroleum resources.

Uganda's location (CIA World Factbook)

Uganda’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

After years of negotiations, officials in Kampala earlier this month (February 7), signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain’s Tullow Oil, France’s Total and China’s Cnoc. Gloria Sebikari, of the ministry’s petroleum department said the memorandum goes behind simply developing oil fields, the Voice of America reported. “The plan provides for use of petroleum for power generation, supply of crude oil to the refinery to be developed in Uganda, and then export of crude oil to an export pipeline or any other viable option to be developed by the oil companies,” Sebikari said, according to VoA.

Uganda, East Africa’s third-largest economy, discovered hydrocarbon deposits in the western part of the country in 2006. But commercial production has been delayed and is not expected to start until 2016 at the earliest. Analysts blame the delay on negotiations over the planned refinery, according to Reuters.

Uganda has agreed to build a pipeline that will run to neighboring Kenya’s planned Indian Ocean port at Lamu, which is expected to become an export terminal for crude oil from Uganda, Kenya and other regional states, Reuters said.

Uganda has sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-largest oil reserves, behind South Sudan, Angola and Nigeria with an estimated 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil, according to The oil and energy news website said East Africa has been identified as the next big oil and gas production area with more than four countries – including Kenya and Ethiopia – announcing oil and gas finds.

February 17, 2014 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

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