Posts tagged ‘Africa’
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 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 …
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.
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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.
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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.