Posts filed under ‘Africa’
Since he became Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence last July, Michael Fallon has seen Libya dissolve into chaos and threaten southern Europe with waves of refugees and potential terrorist attacks. There’s also been the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner carrying many Europeans over Ukraine … the rising threat of the Islamic State to Syria, Iraq and the West … and continued Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltics.
But the thing that has most surprised him so far is “the number of states that look to be on the brink of failing,” he told a Washington think tank audience Wednesday (March 11).
Fallon, a member of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, said he’s worried about “the instability across great swathes of Africa and the Middle East.”
Nearly four years after a NATO air campaign led to the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddaffi, the country has been torn by civil war, become a training ground for insurgents across North Africa and the Levant and also served as a haven for terrorists — including those that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in 2012.
Fallon said Western governments and their partners in the region have got to “redouble efforts to drive some sort of political settlement” among Libya’s warring factions.
On other security issues, Fallon said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward former Soviet Union states that are now NATO members — like all three Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — have left those governments feeling “very exposed.”
Last week (March 6) the Defence Ministry announced it was sending a shipment of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine, including helmets, first aid kits GPS units and helmet-mounted night vision goggles. “NATO needs to make clear to President Putin that we will react … to defend any member of NATO that is attacked,” Fallon said.
On the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, Fallon reminded the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that the former Soviet republic is not a NATO member. There “can’t be a military solution” alone for this crisis, Fallon said. But for a political solution to work “we need reassurances” from Russia and Russian-backed rebels that they will honor the ceasefire terms of the Minsk agreement, Fallon said.
He was asked about numerous Russian military flights — including the flight of two Russian bombers over the English Channel — that have led the Royal Air Force to scramble jets to escort the Russian planes away from Britain.
While none of those Russian jets have actually entered UK airspace, there has been no response from the Russian pilots, no radio or transponder communication at all. “We see that as Russia’s testing our response,” said Fallon, adding the radio-silent flights are “provocative and frankly, they’re dangerous.”
Fallon and new U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be meeting for the first time later in the day at the Pentagon.
Long War Strategy.
President Barack Obama says the United States is not at war with Islam. Rather, “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he told officials from more than 60 nations at a three-day summit on countering violent extremism that ended Thursday (February 19).
The White House called the Washington gathering — following a wave of recent terrorist attacks in Canada, France, Australia and Denmark — to develop an international coalition to wage an ideological battle against violent extremist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in parts of Syria and Iraq, and radical Islamist groups like Boko Haram in West Africa and al Shabaab on the Horn of Africa in the eastern part of the country.
Among the tactics proposed was delivering a strong message to young people to counter the propaganda and recruitment efforts of extremist groups through social media. “We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslin youth,” Obama said, adding: Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East. ”
As a step in that direction, Obama said the United States was joining with the United Arab Emirates (UAE, a Gulf State), to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.
Obama also called on foreign leaders to cut off funding “that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds.” He also called for free elections, religious and ethnic tolerance.”We have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.” But a number of the countries represented at the meeting, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, are far from democratic and tolerant, the New York Times noted.
And conservatives and Republicans criticized Obama’s emphasis on expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue. “The solution here is not expanded Medicaid. The solution is the full force of U.S. military power to destroy the leaders of ISIS,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and possible presidential candidate told Politico. “They have declared war … jihad on the United States. Jihad is another word the president doesn’t say.”
Critics like Cruz have also complained that Obama doesn’t use terms like “Muslim,” “Islamic” or “jihadist,” when talking about Middle East terrorism. The White House says its part of strategy to avoid giving credence to the IS doctrine that the West is at war with Islam.
Violent Islamist extremists in Libya released a video purporting to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians Monday (February 15) and the Egyptian government responded swiftly — launching air strikes against the group’s training camps and weapons caches in eastern Libya.
Egypt’s airstrikes “on now threaten to drag it deeper into Libya’s messy internal conflict at a time when Cairo is already straining to revive a battered economy and suppress its own domestic Islamist insurgency — centered in the Sinai Peninsula but now also fighting under the banner of the Islamic State,” the New York Times notes.
Egypt has been intervening in Libya for months, backing one of the two rival coalitions that claim to represent the country’s legitimate government since the fall of strongman Muammar el Qaddafi in 2011. As militants in both Libya and Egypt develop closer ties, Cairo has become increasingly concerned about instability in Libya spilling over to its own Sinai peninsula, says Jane Kinninmont
a Chatham House senior research fellow on the BBC website.
*** *** ***
Turmoil in the Mediterranean
While Egypt mounts bombing raids against a Libyan Islamist group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL), Libya is asking the United Nations Security Council to lift an arms embargo so that it can deal with the IS group and other militants.
Two rival militia coalitions are battling for control over Libya and its vast resources, including nearly $100 billion in financial reserves, untapped oil deposits, and a long Mediterranean coast facing Europe. The worsening security situation has increased fears that the country’s warring militias may side with IS militants.
Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi of the Libyan group recognized by most nations as the legitimate government of the strife-torn country, said that it would help the government build its army and deal with “rampant terrorism,” the BBC reports. Egypt said it supported Libya’s request at an emergency session of the UN council on Wednesday (February 18). Egyptian officials have also suggested that a US-led bombing campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq could be extended to Libya.
The growing chaos in Libya has alarmed countries in Southern Europe, which have been dealing with an influx of migrants fleeing violence in North Africa and the Levant.
Italy issued its strongest warning yet about the danger of the Islamic State establishing a stronghold in Libya that would threaten Europe’s security and the stability of neighboring states, according to AFP (via Al Arabiaya).
Addressing parliament on Wednesday (February 18), Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there was an “evident risk” of IS fighters in Libya forging an alliance with local militias or criminal gangs currently engaged in a multi-sided battle for control of the country.
A British anti-extremist group says Islamic State militants are planning to take over Libya as a “gateway” to wage war across the whole of southern Europe, The Telegraph reported.
Letters written by IS supporters have revealed that jihadists hope to flood the north African state with militiamen from Syria and Iraq. They will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people trafficking vessels, according to plans seen by Quilliam, the British counter-extremist think tank.
And in neighboring Tunisia, government officials are vowing a “strong and violent response” after suspected militants linked to al-Qaeda killed four Tunisian police officers near the Algerian border, according to the Voice of America website.
About 20 rebels attacked security forces at a checkpoint in the country’s mountainous Kasserine region overnight. A Tunisian official attributed Wednesday’s shootings to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which was implicated in the killings of at least 14 Tunisian soldiers last year in the same area.
*** *** ***
West Africa’s violent extremist group, Boko Haram, is threatening to disrupt Nigeria’s elections — now scheduled for March 28, Aljazera reports.
AbuBakr Shekau, leader of the Islamist terrorist group, has said in a new video purportedly released by Boko Haram, that voting in Africa’s most populous country will not be peaceful next month. Shekau issued his warning to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in an anti-democracy video, released on social media Tuesday (February 17) and obtained by U.S. based SITE intelligence group.
“Allah will not leave you to proceed with these elections even after us, because you are saying that authority is from people to people, which means that people should rule each other, but Allah says that the authority is only to him, only his rule is the one which applies on this land,” Shekau said, adding: “…we say that these elections that you are planning to do, will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives.
Officials delayed the February 14 election for six weeks — ostensibly to allow more time for multi-national forces to secure areas battered by the five-year Boko Haram insurgency.
The delay has generated criticism from the opponents of the ruling party who are trying to unseat Goodluck Jonathan. It has also generated speculation around the world about the real reason for the delay. Jonathan, a Chrisitian from southern Nigeria, who has been plagued by the Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and abducted hundreds of schoolgirls, is running against former general Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled the country as a military dictator in the early 1980s. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has promised to crush Boko Haram and end corruption. (To read more, click here.)
At least 40 people have been killed in mutiple attacks in northern and southern Nigeria, Al Jazeera reported.
The majority of the victims died when explosions ripped through a joint civilian and military checkpoint in Biu, in Borno State, Tuesday (February 17). Elsewhere, an attack on an opposition rally in Okrika, in Rivers State, left one policeman dead and several others wounded, while a reporter covering the event was stabbed.
In Potiskum, in the northeastern state of Yobe, three people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide blast. A bomber blew himself up inside a restaurant, killing the manager and a steward, officials told the AFP news agency. Thirteen staff and customers were seriously injured.
Updates to add details to items on Harford Convention and USS Constitution and correct number of canon balls embedded in Constitution’s hull.
February 15-18, Washington City
The day after the peace treaty (already ratified by the British) arrives in Washington, President James Madison submits it to the Senate, which under the Constitution, must ratify all treaties for them to take effect. On February 16, the Senate ratifies the treaty unanimously — even though it does not resolve any of the issues that led to war: the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy; British attempts to incite Native Americans in the Upper Midwest against U.S. settlements; freedom of the seas for U.S. naval and merchant vessels. Instead both sides agree to return to borders and boundaries before the war: the British will evacuate Maine and the areas of the Upper Midwest they have seized and the United States will relinquish the bit of Upper Canada (Ontario) it captured.
Madison signs to treaty and on February 18 proclaims the United States and Great Britain are at peace officially. The war declared by the U.S. Congress on June 18 1812 is finally over.
Sometime between the word of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the delivery of the peace treaty, delegates from the Hartford Convention in New England arrived in Washington. They had with them proposals hashed out in private in Hartford, Connecticut in late December 1814-to-early January 1815. All the New England states (except and Maine which was still a part of Massachusetts and not yet a state in its own right), sent at least one delegate to Hartford.
New Englanders, mostly members of the Federalist Party, were disturbed that the war, which they did not support, was ruining their economy — especially maritime commerce after the British extended their naval blockade to New England. They also felt that the Southern and new Western states and the Democratic-Republican Party were taking over the country and its political system. While there were brief discussions about possible secession from the union, it was not taken seriously. Instead, delegates drew up several proposed amendments to the Constitution. They ranged from requiring a two-thirds majority vote for all future declarations of war to limiting presidents to one term and ending the three-fifths compromise language of 1787, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of both representation in Congress and the direct taxation of states. Another proposal would have barred men from the same state from succeeding each other as president. (Except for Massachusetts’ John Adams, every U.S. president up until then had hailed from Virginia — including pro-war-with-Britain Thomas Jefferson and Madison). With the war with Britain over, and patriotic fervor at a fever pitch following the victory at New Orleans, the Hartford Convention’s ideas are ignored or laughed off in Washington.
February 20, Off the West Coast of Africa
The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, unaware that peace has come, plies the South Atlantic looking to disrupt British commerce. Four days after the peace treaty is ratified, the fabled ship — known as “Old Ironsides” encounters two Royal Navy ships, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 21-gun HMS Levant off the coast of Africa.
Constitution’s captain, Charles Stewart, first defeats, Cyane, and after a running gun battle, Levant strikes her colors. The British ships suffer about 40 killed and 80 wounded, while Constitution’s losses are four killed and 11 wounded. Constitution suffers little damage although 12 32-pound British canon balls are found embedded in Old Ironsides’ hull — but none penetrated the ship’s interior.
Stewart places some of his officers and crew aboard the two British ships to sail them back to the United States as prizes of war. But after a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, Constitution and her two prizes encounter a three-ship British squadron, which re-captures Levant. But Stewart and his other prize get away. Cyane reaches a U.S. port in April. Constitution continues its raiding cruise but during a stop in Brazil to drop off her British prisoners, Stewart hears a rumor the war may be over and sets sail for America, arriving in New York May 15.
Following the rules of the day, Cyane is ruled a prize of war and not returned to Britain, but renamed USS Cyane and absorbed into the U.S. Navy.
Nigerians were supposed to go to the polls Saturday (February 14) to elect a president but officials have delayed the election for six weeks — ostensibly to allow more time for multi-national forces can secure areas battered by the Boko Haram insurgency.
The closely contested election will now be held March 28, the election agency told a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, last Saturday night (February 7).
The delay has generated criticism from the opponents of the ruling party who are trying to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan. It has also generated speculation around the world about the real reason for the delay. Jonathan, a Chrisitian from southern Nigeria, who has been plagued by the Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and abducted hundreds of schoolgirls, is running against former general Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled the country as a military dictator in the early 1980s. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has promised to crush Boko Haram and end corruption.
According to the New York Times, the delay was ordered after weeks of pressure to postpone it from the ruling party, which analysts say was facing potential defeat for the first time in more than 15 years. The country’s northeastern region has been in the grip of an Islamist insurgency waged by the extremist group, Boko Haram, for more than five years. Nigeria’s military has been unable to contain the violence but it was not immediately clear how the situation might change in the coming six weeks.
Darren Kew, a Nigeria expert at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told the Times: “This is a sign of panic on the part of supporters of the president and the ruling party. The real reason behind it is the opposition is surging right now.”
Washington said it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision to postpone the election. “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement (February 7), adding that “it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process. The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.”
Buhari called for calm in the country and cautioned against any violence following the election postponement, which he said was engineered by the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Foreign powers are closely following events in Africa’s biggest economy and have voiced concerns there could be a repetition of violence that followed 2011 elections when 800 people died and that a delay would stoke unrest in opposition strongholds, Reuters reported.
Jonathan denied he was consulted over the postponement of Saturday’s presidential and parliamentary elections. He said election officials took the decision on the advice of security officers concerned about the Islamist-led insurgency in the north-east, BBC reported. The six-week delay was not a “big deal, Jonathan said on national television.
*** *** ***
Uniting Against Boko Haram
While it struggles politically as well as militarily against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s neighbors are uniting to counter the radical Islamist group, after it has launched cross border attacks into Cameroon and Niger.
Niger, the latest Nigerian neighbor to come under attack, has joined Cameroon, Chad and Benin to form a multi-national force to suppress Boko Haram. Those countries agreed with Nigeria last weekend to send a joint force of 8,700 troops to fight the violent extremist group, which has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds more in its bid to carve out an Islamic state in the region. Niger’s parliament voted unanimously to deploy trrops in northern Nigeria.
On Monday (February 9), Boko Haram bombed the southeaster Nigerien town of Diffa, killing five people – its third attack there in four days, according to The Guardian. Boko Haram also carried out raids in neighboring Cameroon, kidnapping a bus full of passengers.
Thousands of civilians fled their homes in Diffa this week, officials said Thursday (February 12), following waves of cross-border raids and suicide bombings by Boko Haram. Attacks in Niger are deepening a humanitarian crisis in the remote border zone, according to the Voice of America. The area, struggling to feed 150,000 people who have fled from violence in northern Nigeria, has seen about 7,000 arrive this week in Zinder, Niger’s second-biggest town, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of Diffa.
Meanwhile, Niger’s military said its forces had killed 260 Boko Haram militants and had arrested others in fighting since February 6. A suspected local leader of the group was arrested, and rocket launchers and other weapons were seized at his home.
At least seven people have been killed by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up at a crowded market in northeast Nigeria, according to witnesses and officials, Al Jazeera reported. The mid-afternoon attack Thursday (February 12) in Biu, 180 kilometers (111 miles) south of the Borno state capital Maiduguri, is the latest in a spate of similar attacks in the region. Boko Haram was suspected in the attack.
The group as been blamed for using women and young girls as human bombs as part of its deadly campaign to create an Islamic state in the country’s far northeast.
Boko Haram Captives.
The Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram has released about 190 captives, who returned to their homes in the northeast state of Yobe between Friday and Saturday (January 23-24), while other people were still being held, according to Reuters.
Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for the state governor, said the militants released young men, women and children who were kidnapped on Jan 6. At least 20 other people were still being held.
Boko Haram has been waging a five-year insurgency to establish an Islamic state in the northeast of the country. Borno state is the worst hit followed by Adamawa and Yobe, Reuters reported.
The group frequently raids towns and kidnaps young men, women and children as well as some foreign workers. A German national was freed in Cameroon last week after being abducted in Nigeria’s Adamawa state in July.
*** *** ***
Nigeria Election Next Month
Public dissatisaction with Army and government ineffectiveness in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency has become a driving force in next month’s presidential election in Nigeria, according to the New York Times.
The bloody insurgency that has killed thousands and driven thousands more from their homes in the country’s north is propelling a retired general, 72-year-old Muhammadu Buhari , to the forefront.
“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” says Jobrin Ibrahim, a poliical scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying ‘Give Buhari a chance,'” he told the Times.
Buhari was slated to speak Monday (January 26) to the Center for Strategic and International Studies but canceled “because of a last minute change in [his] schedule,” the Washington think tank announced Friday (January 23).
Plunging oil prices have hurt Nigeria’s economy — the biggest in Africa — and the continuing Boko Haram rampages — including the kidnapping of hundreds of high school girls in April — have undercut incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
But Jonathan’s national security adviser tells the BBC that Nigeria does not need help from United Nations or African Union troops to take on Boko Haram. Sambo Dasuki told the British broadcaster that Nigeria, and its neighbors are in “good shape” to take on the insurgents – although he acknowledged the violent group is a “real security threat.”
*** *** ***
Libyan Terror Leader Dead
The Libyan Islamic militant group Ansar al-Shariah says its leader, Mohammed al-Zahawi, has been killed.
A statement, posted on the group’s official Twitter account Saturday (January 24), gave no details about how or when al-Zahawi was killed. Unconfirmed reports that he was injured or killed in an attack late last year circulated on jihadist websites, according to The Associated Press (Via Air Force Times).
The group has been blamed for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The United States designated Ansar al-Shariah a terrorist organization in January 2014. According to the State Department, the group has been involved in “terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations and attempted assassinations” of security officials and politicians in eastern Libya.
The United Nations also named the group a terrorist organization in November 2014 for running training camps for foreign fighters traveling to Syria, Iraq and Mali.
More than 10,000 troops are guarding “sensitive sites” around France including synagogues, railway stations, airports and tourist attractions in the wake of last week’s terrorism incidents in Paris that left 17 people dead — including three alleged attackers.
Nearly half the soldiers – about 4,700 – will be assigned to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, the Washington Post reported January 12.
“I’m glad the soldiers are here. But the fact they’re here means something is very wrong,” said the director of on Jewish school in Paris. “It shouldn’t be this way,” the school official told the Post. Some mosques will also receive government protection, following more than a dozen attacks on Islamic buildings since January 7.
That’s when masked gunmen stormed a satirical weekly magazine killing 12 people including a Muslim French police officer. The alleged gunmen, two bohers, originally from Algeria, were killed by police January 9 during a hostage rescue raid outside Paris. Five cartoonists and three other staffers were killed at the weekly, Charlie Hebdo, which has outraged Muslims in the past with cartoons and satirical copy about the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo plans to print 3 million copies, rather than the usual 600,00 of its next issue, which will a drawing of Muhammad on the front page.
Four more people, and a female police officer were killed by another radicalized Muslim man who took hostages at a kosher market in Paris before he, too, was shot by police January 9.
*** *** ***
In response to the Paris attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to increase random screenings of passengers at airports as well as ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a short-term review of whether more security measures are needed.
“We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, the POLITICO website reported.
DHS said the latest security measures are being taken as part of “precautionary” steps following the attacks in Paris, just as they were following recent incidents in Sydney and Ottawa. Johnson also urged Congress not to pass a funding bill for DHS with any restrictions on spending. House Republicans have said they plan to restrict U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS unit, from implementing President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
The Paris attack seems to have had some affect on Republicans’ strategy, however. While Republicans will still try to block Obama from implementing his immigration overhaul — they won’t risk funding for the Department of Homeland Security to do it, says Texas Republican senator John Cornyn, according to CNN.
Cornyn said January 11 on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Republicans will try to “address and defund” what he called an “unconstitutional” executive action to limit deportations for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. “But we’re not going to take any chances with the homeland,” Cornyn said.
*** *** ***
Nigeria says 150 people lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week.
The Nigerian defense ministry says this figure includes “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and faced resistance by troops. Local officials earlier estimated the number of deaths at as many as 2,000, the BBC reported. Nigeria has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram.
Earlier, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, accused the West of ignoring the threat posed by Boko Haram. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said the world had to show more determination to halt the group’s advance in Nigeria. The archbishop told the BBC that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military was unable to tackle Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, at least 23 people were killed at the weekend by three female suicide bombers, one reported to be 10 years old.