Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’

SPECIAL OPS/INTELLIGENCE: Michael Vickers Retiring from Pentagon Intel Post

Ex-Green Beret, Ex-CIA, Now Ex-Pentagon Official.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) ,John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice  Department.  (Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the 2014 Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado with moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department.
(Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence for the past four years, announced Thursday (April 30) that he was stepping down.

A former U.S. Army Green Beret, CIA operations officer, and top Pentagon official since 2007, Vickers was the first person to hold the position of assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities from July 23, 2007 to March 17, 2011. President Obama asked Vickers to stay on in that post when his administration took office in 2009.

Vickers is probably best known as the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the CIA’s history: the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan — popularly known from a non-fiction book and movie as “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

But success doesn’t come easy or all the time, Vickers told DoD News. He noted the United States and the West were caught by surprise by Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine, slipping in Russian special ops soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians. But Vickers said “the intelligence community quickly adapted to the situation and was able to track things very well since then.”

He noted that the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or simply the Islamic State) and their rapid advance through Iraq were also surprises.

Obama nominated Vickers to be the third Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence  on September 29, 2010, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on March 17, 2011. Vickers served as Acting USDI for about two months in early 20111. As USDI, he played a critical policy and planning role in the operation that hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden.

As the SO/LIC&IC assistant secretary, he was, in effect, the civilian chief of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the senior civilian adviser to the Secretary of Defense on counterterrorism, irregular warfare and special activities.  He played a central role in shaping U.S. strategy in the war with al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan, and led the largest expansion of SOF capabilities and capacity in history.

From 1973 to 1986, Vickers served as an Army Special Forces enlisted man and officer, and CIA Operations Officer. He had operational and combat experience in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. His operational experience spans covert action and espionage, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and foreign internal defense, according to his Pentagon bio.

April 30, 2015 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Army Rescue in Nigeria; Nigerien Army Drives Terrorists from Island; Mali Rebels Attack UN Peacekeepers

Army Rescues 293 from Boko Haram.

Nigeria (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World factbook)

The Nigerian Army says it has rescued nearly 300 female captives from the radical Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

On Tuesday (April 28), the military said it freed 200 girls and 93 women from an area where Boko Haram is active. However, the Army said the girls abducted from a school in Chibok in April 2014 were not among the captives released, according to the BBC.

The military said the girls and women were freed during major operations ending in the seizure of four Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest that borders Cameroon.

Whomever they are, many of the women and girls may not be able to go home because Boko Haram has destroyed their houses, families or businesses, or continues to threaten their towns, a Nigerian psychologist and counterterrorism adviser to the government tells Voice of America.

Earlier this month, the human rights group Amnesty International published a report saying that Boko Haram, which is fighting to create an Islamic state in largely Muslim Northeast Nigeria,  has abducted at least 2,000 women and girls since the start of 2014, Al Jazeera reported.  In addition to forcing them into sexual slavery, Boko Haram has used girls and women as suicide bombers, sending them into crowded market places and elsewhere.

Boko Haram has been responsible for killing thousands of people mostly in the north but also in bombing attacks in large cities, including Abjua, the capital. About 300 teenaged girls were kidnapped from a school compound during a Boko Haram attack last April, sparking international outrage and widespread dissatisfaction with President Goodluck Jonathan, who failed to win re-election last month. Dozens of the girls managed to escape their captors as they were driven away from the school but 219 are still missing.

Newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army general who once took over the country in a coup 30 years ago, has pledged to crush Boko Haram. Buhari takes office on May 29. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the new leader said he could not promise that Nigerian authorities will be able to find and rescue the missing schoolgirls, but: “I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my government will do everything in its power to bring them home.”

*** *** ***

Nigerien Army vs. Boko Haram

Government officials say Niger’s military has regained total control of the island of Karamga in Lake Chad after an attack by Boko Haram.

Nigerien paratroopers train with U.S. advisers during Exercise Flintlock 2007. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Larson)

Nigerien paratroopers train with U.S. Army advisers during Exercise Flintlock 2007.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Larson)

In a statement, Niger’s government said Monday (April 27) that its security and defense forces have cleared the enemies from the island, the Associated Press reported. (via FOX News)The government said 46 Nigerien soldiers and 28 civilians were killed in the attack, according to AFP (via News 24 South Africa). Government officials said 126 terrorists were also killed in the attack on the island’s army base.

The island was seized by hundreds of Boko Haram militants aboard motorized canoes at dawn on Saturday (April 25, their second attempt to capture it since February, army and government sources told Reuters.

Lake Chad’s islands, which lie in dense swampland, are an ideal base for mounting surprise attacks on the countries bordering the lake: Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. Niger suffered a wave of attacks and suicide bombs in its southern border region of Diffa in February and March, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency there.

Niger joined a regional offensive in January that has been credited with retaking large swaths of territory from the Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram, whose fighters had months of gains in Nigeria and pushed across borders. A February attack on Karamga killed seven Nigeran soldiers, and Niger towns bordering Nigeria have also been targeted.

*** *** ***

Mali Again

Mali and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

Swedish peacekeepers in Mali say they have repelled a rebel attack on Timbuktu twice in two days. Heavily armed rebels in trucks fitted with machine guns retreated north of the city on Wednesday (April 29), a Swedish commander told the BBC.

Fighting has also intensified in other parts of the northwest Africa country in recent days. A pro-government militia said it had recaptured the eastern town of Menaka, while a coalition of Tuareg rebels claimed to have taken the town of Lere, the BBC said.

Timbuktu and the north of Mali were taken over by Tuareg rebels allied with jihadist groups in 2012. France intervened in January 2013 and the UN began deploying 10,000 peacekeepers in July of that year.

Peace negotiations have been complicated by the number of rebel groups with widely differing agendas.

They include secessionist Tuaregs, religious extremists and armed militias vying for control of lucrative trafficking routes.

 

April 29, 2015 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

LAT AM REVIEW: Colombian Attack; Mexican Drug Lord Seized, U.S. Coast Guard Focus on Western Hemisphere, Rio Defense Expo

U.S. Condemns Rebel Attack.

Colombia map by CIA World Factbook

Colombia map by CIA World Faxback

Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed in fighting with Marxist guerrillas last week  (April 14), prompting Colombia’s president to resume air attacks against rebel camps.

The attack and the government’s response have many observers worried they could jeopardize peace talks seeking to end a 50-year insurgency that has cost thousands of lives in Colombia.

A spokesman for the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — which has been trying to overthrow the government since the 1960s — claimed the soldiers initiated the fighting near Cauca in western Colombia. But President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack by the FARC and ordered the resumption of bombing raids on rebel targets. Seventeen other soldiers were wounded in the skirmish and one guerrilla was also killed.

Despite the violence, the Voice of America reported the two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday (April 16) in Havana, Cuba where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement April 17 condemning “the brutal attack in Cauca orchestrated by the FARC.” The brief statement called the attack a “direct violation of the unilateral ceasefire FARC committed to” last December.  “We support President Santos’ decision to continue negotiations but also lift his halt of aerial bombardment of FARC,” the statement added.

The State Department said it reaffirms “our continuing support to the government of Colombia in its efforts to end the nation’s 50 year conflict.”

In February, the FARC said it would stop recruiting fighters younger than 17. Then in March, the two sides announced an initiative to work together to remove land mines, the New York Times reported. Soon afterward, Santos ordered a one-month halt to the aerial bombing of FARC encampments. Just a week prior to the latest attack, the president extended the bombing respite for another month.

Since the peace talks began, there have been other clashes with the FARC that resulted in a large number of casualties. In July 2013, the military reported that 15 soldiers died when the rebels attacked an oil pipeline, the Times added.

*** *** ***

Mexican Drug Lord Captured.

Jesus Salas Aguayo  (DEA Photo)

Jesus Salas Aguayo
(DEA Photo)

The head of another transnational drug cartel has been captured.

On Sunday (April 19) Mexican authorities said they have captured the man who has led the Juarez drug cartel since last year’s arrest of then-leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the Associated Press reported.

National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said Jesus Salas Aguayo was caught Friday (April 17) about 130 kilometers south of the border metropolis of Ciudad Juarez. One of Salas’ bodyguards was killed and another was arrested.

Rubido said Salas Aguayo is linked to a 2010 car bombing in Ciudad Juarez, as well as a 2012 bar attack that killed 15, and the 2009 slaying of a protected witness in El Paso. The website of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Salas Aguayo is wanted in the United States for possession and distribution of narcotics and for conspiracy.

*** *** ***

Coast Guard Focus.

Cocaine seized in Central American waters.  (U.S. Navy photo)

Cocaine seized in Central American waters.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s not enough to seize thousands of pounds of cocaine at sea or even arrest the people transporting illegal drugs by boat.

Instead, it’s crucial to defeat the transnational organized crime (TOC) networks behind the illicit commerce in narcotics and people, according to the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.

“Last year alone. the Coast Guard took 91 metric tons of cocaine out of the [trafficking] stream,” Lieutenant Commander. Devon Brennan told a briefing on the first day of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. He noted that seizure figure is three times the amount of drugs seized by all U.S. law enforcement agencies “including along the southwestern border.”

But going after transnational cartels is only part of the Coast Guard’s regional strategy. “In the next decade, the Coast Guard must confront significant challenges to maritime safety, efficiency and security in the Western Hemisphere,” the Strategy states, identifying three priorities over the next 10 years: combatting [criminal] networks, Securing Borders and Safeguarding Commerce.

*** *** ***

Brazil Defense Expo.

One of the biggest defense conferences in the Americas, Latin America Aero & Defense (LAAD 2015),  just ended in Rio de Janeiro.

Armored ground vehicles, helicopters and small arms were among the items on display at the LAAD 2015 international defense and security exhibition.

“Despite budgetary uncertainties, the Brazilian Army remains steadfast in the pursuit of its key strategic projects,”  according to IHS Jane’s website.

The army’s seven key strategic projects include the SISFRON border-monitoring system; a cyber defense project; the Guarani Strategic Project for (PEE Guarani) for a family of wheeled amphibious armored personnel carriers (APCs);  and the Attainment of Full Operational Capability (OCOP) project, which aims to equip the army at a minimum level of readiness to guarantee the homeland defense mission.

Brazil’s defense strategy includes air and naval asset acquisitions to assert Brazilian control over its deepwater offshore oil reserves and to secure the waters of the Amazon Basin, which Brasilia considers a natural resources commodity as valuable as oil.

Brazil: CIA World Factbook

Brazil: CIA World Faxback

April 19, 2015 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Colombian Insurgency Heats Up — Again

Eleven Soldiers Killed.

Colombia map by CIA World Factbook

Colombia map by CIA World Factbook

Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed in fighting with Marxist guerrillas Tuesday (April 14), prompting Colombia’s president to resume a bombing campaign on rebel camps — jeopardizing peace talks seeking to end a 60-year insurgency that has cost thousands of lives.

The government blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for an attack with guns and grenades on an army platoon late Tuesday night. The rebels said government troops initiated the skirmish, which occurred in the Andean state of Cauca and injured at least 17 other soldiers, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile,  FARC rebels blamed the Bogota government on Thursday (April 16) for the renewed violence but they declined to say whether they had broken their own ceasefire. President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack and ordered the resumption of bombing raids on FARC targets, the Voice of America reported. Santos halted the aerial bombings after the FARC’s called a unilateral truce on December 20.

Despite the violence, VoA said the two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday (April 16) in Havana, where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.

More on this later in LA AM REVIEW.

April 16, 2015 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Hostage Rescue in Mali; Kenya College Attack; Yemini Refugees; C.A.R. “Ceasefiire” [UPDATE2-April 10]

French Commando Rescue.

Mali (CIA World Factbook) Click on image to enlarge

Mali
(CIA World Factbook)
Click on image to enlarge

A Dutch national held hostage by Islamist extremists in North Africa for three years has been freed in a daring raid by French commandos.

Sjaak Rijke, abducted while vacationing in Timbuktu in November 2011, was set free in a raid on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb by French special forces on Monday (April 6), AFP reported.

French President Francois Hollande said a number of suspected jihadists were killed during the rescue. Hollande added that the French soldiers were unaware of the hostage’s location before the raid against the extremists near Tessalit in Mali’s far north, close to the border with Algeria.

Some 3,000 French forces are taking part in the mission to stabilize Mali, which was overrun by al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists until French troops came to the aid of Malian soldiers in January 2013, according to the Associated Press. Rijke was abducted by extremists in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm. A German died in the attack. Officials in France and the Netherlands did not say whether there was any news of Gustafsson or Malcolm.

*** *** ***

Kenya’s Response.

Kenyan warplanes bombed militant camps in Somalia, following a vow by President Uhuru Kenyatta to respond “in the fiercest way possible” to a massacre of college students by al-Shabab extremists, the Associated Press reported.

The airstrikes Sunday (April 5) and Monday (April 6) targeted the Gedo region of western Somalia, directly across the border from Kenya, a  Kenyan military official said, adding that al-Shabab camps, which were used to store arms and for logistical support, were destroyed, but it was not possible to determine the number of casualties because of poor visibility.

The Somalia-based militant group claimed responsibility for last week’s attack at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya in which 148 people were killed — most of them students.

Kenya’s response to the attack has gone beyond military action. Nairobi is ordering the closure of 13 money transfer firms to prevent Islamist extremists from using them to finance attacks, the BBC reported. The bank accounts of 85 individuals and “entities” had also been frozen, according to government officials. Among those targeted: a Somali-linked bus company and hotel.

Nearly 500,000 Somali refugees are in Kenya – many of whom fled decades of conflict and drought in Somalia.

*** *** ***

The Horn of Africa. Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

The Horn of Africa.
Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

Refugee Crisis Expected.

Violence in the Arabian Peninsula, across the Gulf of Aden from East Africa is expected to drive thousands of refugees to the Horn of Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR reported Friday (April 10) that at least 900 people have made the journey by boat in the past 10 days. The report noted the vast majority of he new arrivals were “Somalis but also Yemenis and a small number of Ethiopian and Djiboutian nationals.” All received food and water, and health and medical checks on arrival, the UNHCR said.

The U.N. estimated that clashes between rebels and supporters of the ex-president in Yemen have killed more than 500 people and left 1,700 others wounded in less than two weeks.

And that is expected to drive thousands of refugees to Djibouti and Somalia, putting a huge strain on local resources, according to Newsweek. Djibouti has a population of just 870,000 so a large influx of people would put a huge strain on its resources, said Frederic Van Hamme, an official at the UNHCR’s Djibouti base.

*** *** ***

C.A.R. “Ceasefire”.

Central African Republic (Map from CIA orld Factbook)

Central African Republic
(Map from CIA World Factbook)

Rival Central African Republic (CAR) groups have signed a ceasefire deal in Kenya to provide the strife-torn country with a political solution.

According to al Jazeera, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted the signing of the accord Wednesday (April 8) between Anti-Balaka leader Joachim Kokate and former president and ex-Seleka leader Michel Djotodia. The two factions have been in talks in Kenya since November. Their agreement includes a deal “to stop hostilities” and another to “open a new chapter of political stability in their country” by adhering to the transitional roadmap.

But CAR’s president has said he does not recognize these talks, and they  are not recognized by either the French or the United Nations.”

April 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: Understanding the Islamic State Threat

Fighting a Radical Tide on Social Media.

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq's Anbar Province in 2014. (Wikipedia)

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2014.
(Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — You’ve seen them on TV or the Internet: faces masked, waving black flags and AK-47s , videotaping heinous acts of barbarism against soldiers and civilians that fall into their hands. They call themselves the Islamic State.

But what is the United States and its allies to do about the growing number of people from around the world — the CIA estimates 10,000 — flocking to Iraq and Syria, pledging allegiance to this self-styled caliphate, a terrorist group so vicious its parent organization, al Qaeda, disowned them?

Two professors at the National War College tackled that and other questions Monday (April 6) in a briefing at the National Press Club sponsored by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

Dr. Richard Andres said the group has been very successful using social media to recruit new members and raise money. Despite the disturbing images of beheadings and other violence that IS has spread across the Internet, despite the knowledge that Islamic State practices severe Sharia law that calls for stoning, flogging and mutilating wrongdoers, hundreds of mostly young people are leaving their homes in Europe, the Americas, North Africa and Asia to join IS and risk their lives in a war zone. The group is also called ISIL (for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) by the U.S. government and ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) by others.

Andres, professor of National Security Strategy at the War College, says social media takes advantage of two psychological quirks: People are attracted to the sensational, whether it be lurid gossip or disturbing images, and will click on a webpage to see it. People are also “attracted to things that confirm our existing biases,” Andres said, so the politically unsophisticated or economically frustrated are drawn in to view more and more outrageous information.Soon they’re hearing just one side of the story and straying farther and farther from mainstream cultural attitudes. This is especially true in undemocratic regimes where the government controls the media. If you can’t trust mainstream media in your country, Andres said, you’re going to be drawn toward more radical information. The message IS sends of fighting repression and exploitation by the West “resonates with young people,” playing on their desire to initiate change and fight injustice.

Dr. Omer Taspinar said most of Islamic State’s new recruits are believed to come — not from the poor and downtrodden of Middle Eastern slums — but from middle and working class immigrant families in Britain, Germany, Italy, France and other European countries. While these radicalized young Muslims are often educated and have grown up in democratic societies, social and economic inequality still play a role in what Taspinar called “relative deprivation.” Dissatisfaction grows with unmet aspirations and expectations of a good job, family and a better life until, in some cases, it becomes unbearable. “It’s about the gap between opportunities and expectations,” he added.

This frustration leads to a feeling of alienation. “They become rebels looking for a cause,” and that makes them susceptible to radical propaganda on social media, said Taspinar, whose expertise includes political economy and Europe, the Middle East and Turkey. Both he and Andres stressed they were expressing their own views and not those of the National War College or the U.S. government.

Islamic State's territories in Syria and Iraq. CLICK TO ENLARGE (Map from the Institute for the Study of War)

Islamic State’s territories in Syria and Iraq. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(Map from the Institute for the Study of War)

Here at the 4GWAR Blog we’ve written often about the Department of Homeland Security’s concerns that American citizens who have been radicalized and served with Islamic State’s insurgencies in Syria and Iraq may return home with dangerous military skills that could be used for terrorist attacks.

Andres said the United States needs to get better at countering radical propaganda on the Web, not an easy task in a country where free speech is enshrined in the Constitution and spying on citizens is unlawful and unpopular. Unlike Russia and China, “the U.S. can’t stop people from saying what they want online,” he added. While the U.S. State Department has a small, underfunded program to challenge radical Islamist propaganda “it’s only a drop in the bucket,” Andres said.

“Not all radicals become terrorists,” Taspinar said, adding that the United States should do what it can at home and abroad to encourage tolerance. He suggested that helping autocratic regimes in the Middle East sends the wrong message to disaffected Muslim youth. Countries with good governance and rule of law can “afford” to be tolerant, he said but “once you lose your sense of security and are threatened by many enemies, you lose your sense of tolerance.” Taspinar noted that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “the U.S. lost its sense of security. It feels much more vulnerable and it became much harder to be a Muslim in America after 9/11.”

April 6, 2015 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: Kenya College Siege

147 Dead.

Kenya (CIA World Factbook)

Kenya
(CIA World Factbook)

Gunmen said to be al Shabab Islamist extremists attack a university campus in Kenya Thursday (April 2), battling security forces for more than 15 hours before the school was secured.

Officials said 147 people at the school — including two security guards — were killed in the siege. Four gunmen also were killed and at least one other person was arrested, according to the BBC and other news organizations.

Garissa University College, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) east of Nairobi (see map) was the scene of the carnage. Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the gunmen were wearing suicide vests which exploded, killing them in an exchange of gunfire with government security forces.

More than 500 students were rescued during the attack and 79 were injured. The most seriously hurt were transported to Nairobi for treatment.

An official of al Shabaab, said the violent extremist group launched the attack as a reprisal for previous Kenyan military incursions into Somalia, where the group is based.

The school is located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the border with Somalia and has, in recent years, been the site of sporadic gun and grenade attacks blamed on al Shabab, the Voice of America reported.

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

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