Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’
Making Progress, but …
Africa’s security environment remains “dynamic and uncertain” with numerous countries through out the continent plagued by crime, corruption, as well as political and economic unrest, says the head of U.S. Africa Command.
Testifying today (March 26) before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army General David Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s commander, said the command has expanded collaboration with allies and partners to address the “growing threat in Libya, Mali and Nigeria” including “an increasingly cohesive network of al Qaeda affiliates a growing Islamic State (ISIL) … presence and Boko Haram.”
Rodriguez said al-Shabaab remains the primary security threat to U.S. interests in East Africa “despite progress by regional partners in liberating parts of southern and central Somalia from the group’s control.” And in North and West Africa, Libyan and Nigerian insecurity “increasingly threaten U.S. interests. In spite of multinational security efforts, terrorist and criminal networks are gaining strength and interoperability,” he said.
Of five immediate priorities, the top two are countering violent extremism and enhancing stability in East Africa and in North and West Africa.
Rodriguez noted that AFRICOM’s engagement with partner nations has increased between Fiscal year 2013 and 2014. “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities,” he told the Senate hearing. By comparison, AFRICOM conducted “55 operations, 10 major joint exercises, and 481 security cooperation activities in Fiscal Year 2013.” But requirements are expanding faster than resources are increasing, he added.
More on this hearing later this weekend.
The U.S. Marine Corps doesn’t have medics per se. Instead, their medical emergency needs aboard ship, back at base or on the battlefield are handled by sailors known as Hospital Corpsman.
These highly skilled and highly respected personnel don’t get as much attention as they should from this blog. But today is different.
Today (March 25) we learned one corpsman, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Baskin, was recently awarded the Silver Star Medal for valor during combat actions in Afghanistan.
A special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman (SARC) assigned to the 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Baskin was awarded the Silver Star — the third-highest U.S. military decoration for valor — after saving the lives of four members of his unit, according to to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). SARCs are special operations-skilled trauma specialists who are trained in many of the commando skills of MARSOC operators including combatant scuba diving and parachute insertion.
Baskin was attached to Marine Special Operations Team 8224 with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion during the unit’s 2013 deployment to Herat province, Afghanistan, according to Marine Corps Times. On April 24, 2013, Baskin and his team members came under a barrage of enemy fire from insurgents near Kushe Village, in South Zereko Valley. Disregarding his own safety, he ran through enemy fire, to provide aid to a wounded teammate. After stabilizing the wounded Marine and loading him into an evacuation vehicle, Baskin himself was shot in the back.
Baskin’s award citation reads, “Although wounded, he continued treating casualties while refusing medical treatment for his own injuries. Under intense fire, while simultaneously directing the evacuation of the wounded Marines, [Afghan National Army] partner forces and himself, he laid down suppressive fire until every team member had evacuated the kill zone. His actions ultimately saved the lives of four of his teammates.”
No matter where they serve, the Navy rating of hospital corpsman is the most decorated in the U.S. Navy with 22 Medals of Honor, 174 Navy Crosses. 31 Distinguished Service Medals, 949 Silver Stars and 1,582 Bronze Stars, according to wikipedia. Twenty naval ships have been named after hospital corpsman.
It is noteworthy that this all happened during Baskin’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan. His first tour, with the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, was cut short when he was wounded by fragments from a rocket-propelled grenade — earning him the first of two Purple Heart medals for wounds sustained in combat.
The brutal extremist group that calls itself Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the attack Wednesday (March 18) on Tunisia’s popular national museum that left more than 20 people dead — most of them foreign tourists, the BBC reported.
Tunisian officials say two of the attacking gunmen were also killed and as many as three accomplices may have escaped. Officials in Tunis, the North African nation’s capital, say nine people have been detained for questioning in connection with the attack.
Initial reports Wednesday said the gunmen all attacked the National Assembly which is in the same compound as the museum and where lawmakers were debating a counterterrorism bill. here were no casualties at the legislative complex. Officials now say the museum and tourists were the attack’s targets.
The extremist group said the attack was aimed as “citizens of Crusader countries” and added that it was the “first drop of rain,” the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported.
Twenty tourists from Britain, Colombia, France, Italy and Japan, came under fire as they disembarked from two tourist buses outside the Bardo National Museum. Others fled into the museum where some were taken hostage and some killed. At least two Tunisians, a female museum custodian and a security force officer, were killed in the attack.
Tunisian officials said troops were guarding key points in major cities throughout the country in the wake of the attack. Some Mediterranean cruise lines have suspended calling at Tunis for the time being, USA Today reported.
Wednesday’s assault was the worst attack involving foreigners in Tunisia since an al Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 21 people on the tourist island of Djerba in 2002, according to Reuters.
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Two Dutch United Nations peacekeepers were killed when their Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Apache attack helicopter crashed in northern Mali, Al Jazeera reports. At a press conference in the Netherlands Tuesday (March 17), the Dutch military confirmed the crash, calling it an accident.
The helicopter was conducting a firing exercise on ground targets over uninhabited terrain with another Dutch Apache when it crashed, the RNLAF said.
The accident occurred 47 kilometres to the north of the Dutch compound. Immediately after the crash, the crash site was secured by a French attack helicopter. Dutch special forces secured and guarded the site on the ground. An investigation into the cause of the accident is being mounted.
The helicopter, from the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), crashed about 20 kilometers (xx miles) from Gao in northern Mali. The pilot died on impact and he co-pilot died from his injuries at a French military field hospital at Gao on the River Niger. Both pilots were members of 301 Squadron based in Gilze-Rijen airbase in southern Netherlands.
MINUSMA has some 11,000 personnel on the ground in Mali, about 670 of them are Dutch. More than 40 peacekeepers with MINUSMA have been killed since the mission was created in 2013 to keep the peace between rebelling Tuareg tribesmen in the northern deserts and the government in Bamako to the south. Because of those numbers, according to Al Jazeera, MINUSMA is considered the most dangerous U.N. mission in the world.
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Mali Peace Talks.
Meanwhile, Mali’s government said this week that it won’t participate in further talks with rebels seeking autonomy for northern Mali.
The collapse in peace talks could leave the north’s political status open indefinitely, a situation that Islamist militants active in the region could exploit, Reuters reports.
Mediators have been working for months to get talks going between a group of Tuareg-led rebels from the north and the government in Bamako the capital in the southern part of the vast northwest African country.
Bamako signed a preliminary proposal earlier this month but the rebels erected it, saying it did not grant their region, called Azawad, enough autonomy. Those rebels took advantage of a 2012 military coup in the capital to sweep down from the north seizing territory and cities like Timbuktu. But their rebellion was hijacked by radical Islamist groups, some tied to Al Qaeda branches. They imposed harsh fundamentalist Muslim law and destroyed several holy sites revered by Muslims they consider heretics.
The rebels were threatening to capture Bamako in early 2013 when France intervened, sending troops, armored vehicles and aircraft to drive the rebels back. Eventually, a U.N. peace mission was created.
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Al Shabab Blamed.
Four people have been killed in a terror attack in northeastern Kenya about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with Somalia, the BBC reports.
Security forces said hooded men locked people inside a shop, then lobbed a hand grenade in, causing a fire.
Al Qaeda-linked al Shabab militants in Somalia said they carried out the attack — the fourth in five days in the troubled northeast region. Kenya’s northeast region has often been attacked by al Shabab, which has vowed to get revenge on Nairobi for sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to help the United Nations-backed government battle the Islamists terrorists.
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Al Shabab Official Killed.
And last week, a U.S. drone missile strike killed a top official in al Shabab’s security service, the Amniyat, according to the Voice of America website.
The March 12 airstrike hit a car carrying Adan Garaar — described by the Pentagon as working for al Shabab’s intelligence wing and also connected to the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that killed more than 60 people.
Last month al Shabab released a video that called for attacks on Western shopping malls. The Mall of America, one of the largest in the United States, is in Minnesota, which has a large Somali immigrant population.
Prosecutors say dozens of people from Minnesota, many of them Somali-Americans, have traveled or attempted to travel overseas to support groups such as the Islamic State or al Shabab since 2007.
U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned about the potential for radicalization among embers of immigrants communities.
Previously Peaceful Tunisia.
Nine people have been arrested in connection with the deadly attack on a museum in Tunisia’s capital, killing at least 23 people — 20 of them foreign tourists, the BBC reports.
Officials have not confirmed the IS claim of responsibility, which was made in an audio recording that praised the two attackers slain in the assault as “knights of Islamic State.”
Gunmen tried to storm the country’s national assembly Wednesday (March 18) while lawmakers were debating an anti-terrorism bill. When that attack was thwarted, the gunmen — some wearing military-style uniforms — attacked tourist buses outside the National Bardo Museum across from the government building.
According to the Voice of America, the attackers took a small group of tourists hostage. There were about 100 tourists in the museum, one of he capital’s top tourism sites, when the attack began. Prime Minister Habib Essid said 17 foreign tourists were among the dead. They were said to come from Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Two Tunisians, a female museum custodian and a security officer, were also killed — as were two gunmen. Tunisian authorities say they are searching for up to three accomplices.
The attack was a blow to Tunisia, one of the bright spots in the Arab Spring. Except for al Qaeda attacks on security forces along Tunisia’s borders, there has been no large scale political violence in the country. Tunisia has been making progress on a democratic transition since a popular revolt unseated the autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Since then there have been violent uphevals in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
The attack on such a prominent target is a blow for a small North African country that relies heavily on European tourism, said Al Jazeera. The Wall Street Journal reports that “about 12 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product relies on tourism.”
More later in AROUND AFRICA this evening …
Lost in the Fog.
A U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crashed in the water during a routine exercise along the Florida coast near Eglin Air Force Base, according to the Pentagon and new outlets.
The wreckage of the chopper, which disappeared in heavy fog Tuesday (March 10), was discovered in the waters off Florida’s Panhandle on Wednesday (March 11). There were apparently no survivors on the Blackhawk, which carried a flight crew of four Army National Guardsmen and seven Marine commandos from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
All 11 service members aboard the aircraft are believed dead, and the operation has transitioned from search and rescue to recovery, an Air Force official said Thursday (March 12), CNN reported.
The helicopter was attached to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion based at Hammond, Louisiana. They were participating in a routine night training mission involving the Marine Special Operations Regiment from Camp Lejeune, officials said. A second Louisiana Guard Blackhawk participating in the same training exercise returned to base safely, the Guard said.
At a March 11 news conference, Major General Glenn H. Curtis, the Adjutant General for the Louisiana National Guard, said the Black Hawk pilots had thousands of hours of flight experience and were “instructor pilots,” indicating they were experienced and qualified enough to train other pilots, the Washington Post reported. According to Curtis, it is one of the highest designations pilots in the Army can receive.
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.
LATIN AMERICA: Mexico Arrests Drug Kingpin; Brazil’s Navy; Brazil-Indonesia Chill; Colombia Stops Chinese Ship; Chinese Investment [UPDATE]
UPDATES WITH new stories on Brazil, Chinese investment in Latin America (in italics)
Nabbed: Zetas Cartel Chief.
Mexican police and soldiers on Wednesday (March 4) captured the man widely considered to be the most important remaining leader of the brutal Zetas drug cartel.
The Associated Press reports that Omar Trevino Morales – alias Z-42 – was arrested – without a shot fired – in a pre-dawn raid in a wealthy suburb of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Morales is the younger brother of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales – described as the most bloodthirsty leader of Mexico’s most violent drug gang, the Zetas. The gang originally was formed by deserters from an elite army unit who provided security for another narcotics ring, the Gulf Cartel, based along the Texas border.
The elder Trevino Morales was captured in 2013. Nearly a year earlier, Mexican marines killed the Zetas’ other leader, Herberto Lazcano, known as “El Lazca.”
It was the second high-profile capture of a drug lord in the last week, Reuters reported (via the Voice of America). Servando Gomez, leader of the Knights Templar drug gang, that operates in Michoacan state. The back-to-back arrests lend a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s efforts to battle organized crime. A wave of violence, spurred by battles between authorities and drug gangs — and in-fighting among the gangs themselves — has claimed more than 100,000 lives in Mexico since 2007.
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Brazil’s Naval Maneuvers.
The Brazilian Navy is in the midst of its biggest operation ever — including 250 vessels, 10 aircraft and 15,000 service members — to police the country’s lakes, rivers and 5,250 miles (8,500 kilometers) of Atlantic coastline.
Operation Amazonia Azul (Blue Amazonia) reflects the strategic importance Brzil’s leaders have placed on enforcing jurisdiction over the country’s territorial waters, according to EFE, the Spanish language news service. Brazil is South America’s largest country in area and population (and fifth worldwide in both categories).
Blue Amazonia is he second operation of its kind in a year, a naval spokesman told EFE, adding that it is the largest to date and includes all Brazil’s naval resources.
Brazil’s national defense strategy focuses on protection of its natural resources — both the fresh water supplies of Amazon River basin and massive undersea oil reserves. In addition to helping the navy prepare for its role as defender of Brazil’s oil reserves off the Atlantic coast, the exercise serves as a test run of security measures for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio.
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Diplomatic relations are strained between Brazil and potential arms customer Indonesia after the world’s most populous Muslim country, executed six convicts, including a Brazilian citizen, for drug trafficking in January.
Since then, Brazil has withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia (as has the Netherlands, which also saw one of its citizens executed). A second Brazilian national remains on death row in Indonesia.
But Brazil’s defense minister say the tension between the two countries will soon be overcome and are unlikely to affect their potential weapon purchase deal. Defense Minister Jacques Wagner said Tuesday (March 3) that there is no “crisis” between the two nations. Wagner added that the momentary strain in the relationship will not influence Indonesia’s purchase of rocket launchers and 16 fighter jets from Brazil, according to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua.
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China Boat Seized
Columbia authorities have detained the captain of a Chinese cargo ship bound for Cuba when investigators discovered a shipment of explosives and other arms on board.
The ship was stopped over the weekend in the Caribbean port of Cartegena, officials said Wednesday (March 4). About 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 artillery shells were found on board the Da Dan Xia, but the ship’s manifest said it was carrying grain products, the BBC reported.
Wu Hong, the ship’s captain. Would be charged with weapons trafficking, the Colombian attorney general’s office said. The Chinese foreign ministry said the captain had no violated any international rules. A ministry spokeswoman said China was “communicating with the parties on this matter.” No immediate comment from Cuban authorities.
The incident comes nearly two years after a North Korean ship was detained in Panama for illegally transporting war material from Cuba to North Korea through the Panama Canal.
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China’s Latin American Play.
China is fast overtaking the United States as a lender and investor in Latin America.
Chinese banks increased investments in Latin America by 71 percent last year, to $22 billion, and the country plans to double its trade volume with the Central and South American region over the next decade. This comes as U.S. power in the Americas is starting to erode. U.S. cash is actually fleeing the region as investors see better deals at home or elsewhere, according to CNN Money.
“What we’re looking at is not simply an economic play. It’s an economic play that also has political and strategic undertones,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington tells the CNN website. Outside of economic ties, Berman points out that China has helped fund Argentina’s nuclear power plant, launched Bolivia’s first satellite and is rumored to be helping Venezuela start its own drone program.
According to estimates published by the China-Latin America Finance Database, Chinese loans exceed the combined worth of those by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, the BBC reported.
But as China’s economic boom slows, the effects are being felt in countries around the world that have seen their economies rise on commodity sales to China. Latin America delivered iron ore and copper to build Chinese office and apartment buildings, oil to fuel trucks and cars as well as soybeans and meat to feed a growing middle class. China’s share of Latin American exports grew tenfold between 2000 and 2013, according to The Financialist website.
But as the world’s second-largest economy shifts away from manufacturing and exports and toward domestic consumption, it has helped pull the bottom out from under what was effectively a decade-long commodities supercycle. The spot price of iron ore sits at just over half what it was a year ago at $68 a ton (down from $128) while copper spot prices have plummeted from above $3.20 a pound to $2.68, reported The Financialist — a digital magazine sponsored by Credit Suisse.
As Nouriel Roubini, Chairman of Roubini Global Economics said at Credit Suisse’s recent Latin American Investment Conference in Sao Paulo, “Most of the economies in Latin America were not ready to adjust to this change in commodity prices.” GDP growth in Latin America has fallen steadily, from 6.3 in 2010 to 1.2 percent in 2014. The World Bank’s statistical models predict that if Chinese GDP growth drops 1 percentage point over the course of two years, Latin American output would shrink by 0.6 percentage point as a result, the website reported.