Posts tagged ‘al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Medal of Honor for Ranger (Updated); Al Qaeda Threat in Africa

Army Ranger Awarded Medal of Honor

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne conducting a security patrol while on a mission in northern Afghanistan in 2014. (Courtesy photo via U.S. Army)

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne — a Ranger in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command — received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Friday (September 11, 2020) for heroics in 2015 when he and others rescued some 70 hostages facing imminent execution by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.

Payne, then a Sergeant 1st Class, was the assistant team leader of a group of operators with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. They joined Kurdish commandos on the October 22, 2015, nighttime raid to free Iraqi hostages from the ISIS prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

Payne will become the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Military.com. Army officials have identified Payne as a Ranger, but they have not publicly confirmed his affiliation with the elite and highly secretive Delta Force, the website noted.

Intelligence reported the hostages were being housed in two buildings inside the heavily-fortified compound. Payne’s team would be responsible for clearing one of them. The raiders arrived by CH-47 Chinook helicopter, but a complete brownout ensued as the helicopter rotors stirred up dust. Using their night vision googles, Payne and others navigated to the wall of the compound as enemy gunfire erupted, according to an Army report of the incident.

Patrick’s team met light resistance as they cleared their assigned building. Once inside, they used bold cutters to break thick locks on two rooms with steel prison doors, releasing nearly 40 hostages. There was still an intense firefight going on at the other building. The other team radioed for assistance.

Under heavy machine-gun fire Patrick and others climbed a ladder to the roof of the one-story building, where they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire. Insurgents below them detonated suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. At the same time, smoke billowed out from the roof and enemy gunfire targeted Patrick’s team.

They moved under heavy fire back to ground level and breached windows and walls to enter the building. Once inside, the fighting was intense and the Kurdish commandos began taking casualties.

In order to release the remaining hostages, Patrick reentered the flaming structure with bolt cutters despite heavy gunfire fire. Flames touched off ammunition from a nearby weapons cache. Amid the smoke and chaos, Patrick twice more entered the burning building and with the Kurds, helped release about 30 more hostages.

Patrick and the others did not learn that one of their team members Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler, had been killed in action, until they returned to base.

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Why Africa Matters.

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa says the continent is important in the effort to counter violent extremist organizations.

“Al Qaeda and Islamic State have both stated that they intend to attack and undermine the United States,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, adding that both groups have found a safe haven in Africa. In Africa, Anderson told an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) virtual conference on countering violent extremism, “they can establish themselves, they can develop their means ,and then they can eventually establish — whether it’s a caliphate or their area of control that will give them resources” to undermine the international order and attack the United States and Western allies and partners.

The Sahel Region of Africa. (Wikipedia)

Having lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has been West, with the Islamic State Grand Sahara in the Mali region and the Islamic State West Africa, in Northeastern Nigeria. Even more disturbing, Anderson said, “we’re seeing them as they expand down the eastern coast, the Swahili coast of Africa. And so we see them established in Somalia. We see them going down into Mozambique, in Tanzania. And we see that these affiliates continue to expand and leverage each other.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has been more patient, avoiding attention while it created two big affiliates — al Shabaab in Somalia and AQIM, al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb. 

“This is not a threat that one nation can take care of on its own. It’s not a United States problem. It’s an international problem,” Anderson said.

Special operations troops have long trained their counterparts in Somalia, Kenya, Niger and other countries, while civil affairs units have supported local goodwill projects, in countries like Cameroon, where Nigeria-based Boko Haram encroaches, notes Military Times.

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Silver Stars for Heroism.

Two Green Berets and an Air Force pararescueman were awarded Silver Star medals for their heroism during a nearly eight-hour firefight last year after the Special Forces team stumbled upon an elite Taliban force in a small Afghan village, according to Stars and Stripes.

All three Silver Stars were awarded at a small ceremony in the Rock Garden on the 7th Group compound at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida., in August, along with six Bronze Star Medals with Valor devices, three Army Commendation Medals with Valor devices and four Purple Hearts earned over the six-month deployment last year of the 7th Group’s 1st Battalion.

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SOCOM Modernizes Small Craft Fleet.

The small surface craft fleet that supports the clandestine operations of Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders is undergoing a modernization program, according to Seapower magazine.

The SEALs use special operations craft, to approach shores and insert and extract teams of special warfare operators. These craft are fast, quiet, capable of shallow-water operations, and armed with machine guns for use if their cover is blown. The small craft also can be used for coastal patrol missions and to interdict hostile craft and conduct visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) missions.

Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) operate the Special Operations Craft Riverine (SOC-R), which is specifically designed for the clandestine insertion and extraction of U.S. Navy SEALs and other special operations forces in shallow waterways and open water environments. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric)

Navy Special Warfare Command, the parent unit of the SEAL teams, as a component of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), receives much of its equipment not through normal service acquisition channels but through SOCOM. SOCOM is a combatant command but is unusual in that it has its own acquisition budget and programs.

The special warfare community nearing completion of recapitalization of two classes of small boats and well along in a modernization program that will increase the capabilities of its special operations craft. See details here.

September 11, 2020 at 2:11 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: AFRICOM Logistics Hub; West African Violence;

AFRICOM-Ghana .

U.S. Africa Command plans to begin routing cargo flights through Accra, Ghana, as the hub of a new logistics network to ferry supplies and weapons to U.S. troops operating across the continent’s increasingly turbulent western region, reports Defense One.

Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn

Air Force C-17s may soon be making weekly supply hops to Ghana for U.S. troops in West Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ethan Morgan)

As part of a defense-cooperation agreement with Ghana reached in May, a weekly flight from AFRICOM’s home base in Germany to Accra will deliver cargo to be sent out on smaller planes and trucks to the approximately 1,800 American dispersed across nearly 20 locations in West Africa, according Defense One.

Brigadier General Leonard Kosinski, head of logistics at AFRICOM, says the operation will be like a bus route carrying arms, ammunition, food, and other supplies to special  forces troops. At first, the flights will be U.S. military cargo planes supporting American personnel. But after the first year, AFRICOM hopes that African contractors, European allies, and partner nations will plug into the network.

However, the launch of this West Africa Logistics Network suggests that at least for now, AFRICOM is planning a consistent presence in the western reaches of the continent, writes Defense One senior national security correspondent Katie Bo Williams.

West Africa Attacks.

Attacks by violent extremist groups have been on the rise in West Africa. Ten U.N. peacekeepers from Chad were killed in a January 20 attack in northern Mali. An al-Qaeda-linked group —   Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — claimed responsibility for the attack which also wounded 25 Chadian troops when gunmen stormed the U.N. camp in Aguelhok.

Chad funeral MINUSMA

Tribute ceremony in N’Djamena for the 10 Chadian peacekeepers who were killed on 20 January in a terrorist attack in northern Mali. (United Nations mission in Mali photo)

The death toll from a February attack by gunmen in northwestern Nigeria has doubled to more than 130, Al Jazeera reported. The attack appeared to have been a deliberate plan to “wipe out certain communities,” Kaduna state Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai said,  without elaborating.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Abuja, said the increase in death toll was “expected from the beginning” as 130 people had been marked as missing in the aftermath of the attack.

The attack took place the day before Nigeria was supposed to hold a presidential but electoral authorities delayed the vote by one week citing logistical challenges.

February 22, 2019 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

AFRICA: Mali Hotel Attacked

Gunmen Seize Hotel.

Mali and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

A hotel in the northwest African nation of Mali is under siege today after gunmen stormed the building in Mali’s capital city, killing at least three people and taking more than 100 hostages.

While many hotel guests and workers have been evacuated from the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali’s capital, 138 guests and hotel staff are believed trapped inside, according to the BBC.

The hotel has been surrounded by Malian and French troops. A U.S. defense official in Washington said about 25 U.S. military personnel were in Bamako at the time of the incident, and were helping to move civilians to safety, Reuters reported.

France said it was dispatching 50 elite counter-terrorism officers to Bamako immediately. Paris has troops in Mali helping to fight Islamists, but they are based in the desert city of Gao, 950 kilometers away, according to Reuters.

According to news reports, the gunmen arrived at the hotel in a truck bearing diplomatic license plates and started shooting when a guard tried to check their identification.

Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was attending a regional conference in neighboring Chad and has cut short his trip and is reported heading back to his country.

The gunmen’s motivation and affiliation is unknown although some people who escaped the hotel said some of the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”

Mali, a former French colony, has ben wracked by a military coup and an uprising by separatist Tuareg tribesmen since 2012. The coup was sparked by young officers’ frustration with the government’s inept handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the country’s northern deserts. The ensuing chaos prompted the Tuaregs to sweep over more than half the country, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. Radical Islamists linked to al Qaeda hijacked the rebellion, turning it into a Muslim extremist campaign that imposed harsh sharia law and destroyed shrines and tombs deemed idolatrous.

The French intervention in the Malian crisis began in January. (Copyright: French Defense Ministry)

The French intervention in the Malian crisis began in January 2013.
(Copyright: French Defense Ministry)

France launched a military intervention in early 2013 at the request of the Bamako government. Together with troops from neighboring African nations, they rolled the rebels back and have been providing security — along with U.N. peacekeepers, now numbering 12,000, ever since.

French, Turkish, Chinese and Indian nationals were among the guests at the hotel, which is popular with United Nations personnel, businessmen and airline flight crews.

Northern Mali remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year, including the capital. In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant in Bamako that is popular with foreigners, killing five people, according to the Associated Press.

About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali. According to the Dutch defense ministry, some 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the U.N. mission headquarters in Bamako, AP reported.

November 20, 2015 at 10:10 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali Hostage Freed, Ebola Roundup, Kenyatta Charges Dropped

French Hostage Released.

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in 2013. (Copyright Ministry of Defense)

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in 2013.
(Copyright Ministry of Defense)

A Frenchman kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in North Africa more than three years ago has been freed, the French government announced today (December 9).

Details of the release of Serge Lazarevic were not disclosed but French officials have insisted that no ransom is paid or prisoners released in exchange for any French hostages. At one time 14 French citizens were being held by terrorists in Africa. A Malian security source told AFP that Lazarevic was released at Kidal in northern Mali.

French President Francois Hollande said there are “no more French hostages in any country in the world.” Another, Phillipe Verdon, who was abducted with Lazarevic in 2011 by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed last year in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali to halt a revolt by Islamic extremists and nomadic Tuaregs.

While authorities denied or wouldn’t comment on reports that ransom was paid, a retired French anti-terrorism judge, Alain Marsaud, was more frank. He told France’s RTL radio: “There is no reease if there is no payment. Someone paid, if not the government, a business or insurance company.

Mali and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

A Malian newspaper and two sources, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that several Islamist-linked militants held in Mali were freed.

A Dutch tourist, Sjaak Rijke, kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, has not been seen or heard from since he appeared alongside Lazarevic in a November AQIM video, the BBC reported.

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Ebola Roundup

The World Health Organization reports new cases of Ebola are still rising in West Africa, with Sierra Leone overtaking Liberia with the highest number of cases.

Data published Monday (December 8) by the WHO shows Sierra Leone has recorded 7,798 cases of the deadly virus, making it the country with the fastest growing infection rate, according to the Voice of America website. Meanwhile, infection rates are dropping in Liberia, which now has just over 7,700 cases – but Liberia still has more Ebola deaths than any other country: a little more than 3,100.

Overall, Ebola has infected 18,000 people in Africa and killed 6,346. The vast majority of those cases have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea.

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International Court Drops Kenyatta Charges.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Official photo via Wikipedia)

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta.
(Official photo via Wikipedia)

The International Criminal Court has dropped its case against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta for alleged crimes against humanity.

The prosecution withdrew the charges Wednesday (December 5) against Kenyatta, citing a lack of evidence. But there were also allegations that because the Kenyan government did not cooperate with the international court’s investigation, the case was unable to proceed, according to the Voice of America website.

The ICC’s lead prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against Kenyatta beyond a reasonable doubt. Bensouda said Kenya’s government failed to provide key documents to the prosecution, which undermined her investigations and “had a severe, adverse impact” on the case. She also said she reserved the right to file charges again if more evidence becomes available.

Kenyatta was charged for his alleged role — before he was president — in the ethnic violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan elections. More than 1,000 were killed and a half million more were displaced by the violence, which prosecutors claimed Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, incited.

After the ICC dropped the case, Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta — called it a “travesty” adding that he felt vindicated, the BBC reported. In the Hague, prosecutors accused the Kenyan government of refusing to hand over evidence vital to the case and said officials in Nairobi had intimidated potential witnesses.

 

December 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: What to Do About the Sahel UPDATE

Security First

Updates with U.S. terrorist organization designation for al-Mulathamun Battalion; background on UN concerns; quote from Garvelink and background on Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Africa’s vast Sahel region – on the southern edges of the Sahara Desert – has become the object of heightening international concern because of repeated droughts, political turmoil and violence. Many Western observers fear that the windswept region is becoming a breeding ground for disaffected Islamist extremists and terrorists spreading that violence across the continent — and possibly to Europe.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday (December 18) named the al Mulathamun Battalion, a former al Qaeda-affiliated group operating in the Sahel, as a foreign terrorist organization. The group, once part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split with AQIM.

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

A United Nations official says 16 million people in the Sahel are at risk of hunger in 2014 due to conflicts and rapid population growth — despite recent good harvests and rainfall, according to a Reuters report.

And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people and other forms of transnational organized crime threaten security in the border region south of the Sahara. Because of the region’s vast size and porous borders, the security challenges can be addressed successfully “only if the countries in the region work together,” Ban told a U.N. Security Council meeting Dec. 12 on the Sahel situation.

Key to meeting those challenges is economic development and medical assistance, according to most of the panelists at a discussion Wednesday night on the troubled North African region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank

A 2012 drought across the 10-nation region left 11 million people in danger from what the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls food insecurity: They have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices while awaiting the next harvest.

But violence in the area is on the increase, endangering outside aid workers trying to alleviate the crisis. “Never before has the intensity of conflict been so great,” said Santiago Martinez-Caro, general director of Casa Africa, the Spanish government’s diplomatic and economic outreach organization with Africa, where Spain once had colonies.

As the region’s economy continues to falter “the piracy issue is going to grow,” Martinez-Caro said, eventually sparking a multi-national military response like the one around the Horn of Africa on the continent’s eastern coast.

The people of the region are tough and resilient nomads, said journalist and film maker Donovan Webster. “All they need is water, education and some medical help,” he said, adding that clean water from newly dug wells has cut down on disease and migration.

Photo courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Photo courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

But security remains a crucial issue for international organizations trying to assist victims of hunger, bad water and health problems, said Vivian Lowery Derryck, former assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID).

“I think we can use development issues to promote peace,” said Lowery Derryck, who now heads The Bridges Institute. She noted that civil society – representing all aspects of a society – from the extended family to the state – can be a political catalyst to change governments without resorting to rebellions or military coups.

But the military can play an important role – positive or negative – when it comes to change, she added. She noted a number of factors can affect the actions of a soldier: mission, doctrine, religious considerations and respect from the civilian population. “Is he going to get paid?” Lowery Derryck asked, adding that if the soldier isn’t getting paid, he was likely to join AQIM, which does have money.

William Garvelink, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the U.S. government has closed most of its diplomatic missions in the Sahel, where institutions are weak and many governments are corrupt. A mediator in many of the region’s disputes — former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, “is gone,” he added — killed in a revolt that has released a flood of small arms and other weapons.  Garvelink now is senior adviser for global strategy at the International Medical Corps.

After the split with AQIM, Mokhtar Belmokhtar merged al Mulathamun Battalion with another violent group: Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, according to the State Department. The new group, al Murabitoun, “constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel,” the State Department said.

The one-eyed Belmokhtar was the mastermind behind a January attack on a gas facility in Algeria that left left 38 civilians dead, including three U.S. citizens, according to the New York Times.

December 19, 2013 at 12:49 am 1 comment

AROUND AFRICA: Joseph Kony Surrender Talk; Nigeria vs. Boko Haram, Swedish Drone on East African Anti-pirate Patrol

UPDATE1

End of the Road for LRA Leader?

Is he really sick? Does he seriously want to surrender? Those were the questions swirling around Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous, brutal rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. An African Union official told reporters at United Nations headquarters Wednesday (November 20) that many reports say Kony – who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – is seriously ill and on the run along the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Associated Press.

Uganda and neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Uganda and neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

 

Ambassador Francisco Madeira told reporters the nature of Kony’s illness isn’t known, but he said Michael Djotodia, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) told him that his people had been in contact with Kony.

A spokesman for Djotodia went even farther, telling the Voice of America that Djotodia has talked with Kony by phone and that Kony said he is ready to put down his arms and come in from the bush.

 

The spokesman said Kony is in the southern part of the CAR near the Democratic Republic of the Congo with some 7,000 fighters. Past estimates have placed Kony’s troop strength as less than a thousand.

 

But U.S. Officials are skeptical that Kony means to surrender, the BBC reported. A State Department official told the British broadcaster that while some rebels have been in contact with authorities but Kony is not among them. Kony created the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 1980s as a popular uprising against the Ugandan government. But the LRA was driven out of Uganda in 2005 and has been wandering between the CAR, the DRC and South Sudan, wreaking havoc, killing villagers and soldiers and abducting children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.

A contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been advising African troops in the hunt for Kony and the LRA. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for him.

Battling Boko Haram

Lawmakers in Nigeria have approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency declaration in areas of the West African nation where troops are fighting Islamist militants, the Voice of America reports.

Nigeria (CIA World Factbook map)

Nigeria
(CIA World Factbook map)

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in May, as part of an effort to defeat the violent militant group Boko Haram.

Last week (November 13) the U.S. State Department declared Boko Haram and a splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. government finding labeled Boko Haram a “militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” – al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.

The State Department designation held Boko Haram responsible “for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years – including targeted killings of civilians.” It accused the group of a “brutal campaign” against Nigerian military, government and civilian targets including a September attack that killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheikh and a 2011 suicide bombing at United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that left 21 dead and dozens injured.

U.S. officials accused Ansaru, a smaller group which split with Boko Haram in January 2012, of attacking the Nigerian military and Western targets like the kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers earlier this year.

Despite the inroads Nigerian security forces have made against the jihadist group in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have increased in rural areas, says John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. On the CFR Blog, Africa in Transition, Campbell says there are reports Boko Haram is now targeting – and beheading – truck drivers on the road between Kano and Maiduguri (see map, click to enlarge image) in northeast Nigeria, where the group is trying to impose strict Islamic sharia law.

Horn of Africa

Saab Skeldar V-200 UAS (Photo by Stefan Kalun, Copyright Saab AB)

Saab Skeldar V-200 UAS
(Photo by Stefan Kalun, Copyright Saab AB)

Saab’s Skeldar Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) has been operationally deployed aboard a Spanish naval vessel on anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, the African defense and security website Defence Web reports.

Skeldar is an unmanned rotary wing short-to-medium range aircraft. Mikael Franzen, director of tactical UAS for the Swedish defense contractor, said the Skeldar V-200 is being operated together with a manned helicopter to extend the ship’s surveillance reach in counter piracy activities by the European Union’s Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean .

The unmanned helo is based on the Spanish Navy offshore patrol vessel BAM Meteoro. Prior to being deployed in the Atalanta mission, Skeldar unerwent successful sea trials aboard the BAM Relampago in the waters off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Defence Web said.

November 20, 2013 at 11:58 pm 1 comment

AFRICA: The China Question, Mali Fighting

Xi in Africa

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is in the middle of a four day tour of Africa – part of his first trip abroad as national leader.

Xi will be attending a two day conference of leaders of the so-called BRICS countries starting today (March 26). The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – form an economic bloc made up of many of the world’s leading emerging economies. But Xi is also trying to assure Africans that China interest in their continent isn’t just as a market for its manufactured goods and a source of the raw materials needed by its factories.

MAP-Tanzania

His first stop in Africa this week (March 24) was Tanzania. China has had a close relationship with the country since it gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Thousands of Chinese engineers and laborers built a railroad connecting Tanzania with Zambia in the ’60s and ’70s, according to Xinhua’s English.news.cn website.

At a conference center in Dar es Salaam built with Chinese assistance, Xi assured the audience and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete that China was interested in helping African nations develop their economies, pledging $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next two years. He also said China would train 30,000 African professionals, offer 18,000 scholarships to African students and “increase technology transfer and experience,” Reuters reported.

China’s trade with all African countries reached $198 billion in total value in 2012, an increase of 19.3 percent from 2011, according to Chinese customs statistics, the New York Times reported. Much of that trade consists of oil, minerals and other commodities from Angola, Nigeria and other resource-rich countries, the Times said.

After the two-day BRICS meeting Durban, South Africa, Xi will wind up his first foreign tour with a visit to the Republic of Congo (not be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo — formerly known as Zaire.)

At a Washington symposium on conservation and national security that your 4GWAR editor attended last week, a former Bush administration diplomat said China had made Africa “strategic.”

“I think that strategic engagement is going to translate into political influence and geo-strategic influence,” said Jendayi Frazer, the first woman appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “I think it will show up in things like the United Nations Security Council and how votes start to go in the U.N. General Assembly and other such venues,” she added.

But, “African citizens are becoming increasingly impatient with the flood of Chinese laborers” into their labor markets “and particularly, cheap goods and the supply chain” supporting Chinese traders in the African marketplace. “It’s a big problem,” she told the gathering, co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and Conservation International.

Frazer, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, noted however, that China’s “model of supporting business and their strategic outlook in Africa, is something we in the West should emulate. We should do a better job of helping our private sector” in Africa and other regions.

[You can see a video of Frazer and some of the other speakers at this symposium by clicking here. Your 4GWAR editor’s question about AFRICOM is at 57 minutes and 55 seconds on the tape. Frazer’s comments on China in Africa are at 1 hour, 3 minutes into the tape, followed by her comments on AFRICOM.]

Mali Update

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

Six people – including one civilian – have been killed in fighting between Islamist rebels and French and Malian forces in the northern city of Gao (see map), according to Voice of America.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate has named a replacement for a key commander killed by Chadian soldiers in Mali’s northern mountains last month, according to an Algerian broadcaster, VOA reported. The new guy, Djamel Okacha – also known as Yahia Abu El Hamam – is slated to replace Abdelhamid Abou Zeid as a leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly known as AQIM, according to Algeria’s Ennahar TV.

March 26, 2013 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali Terror Group Sanctioned, AFRICOM, More Mali

U.S. VS. Ansar-al-Dine

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

 One of the violent radical Islamist groups at the center of the insurgency in northern Mali has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

In a statement released today (March 21) the State Department said Ansar-al-Dine was deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization under federal law and also a Global Terrorist entity under an executive order that targets terrorists and those providing them support.

Ansar-al-Dine was one of the Islamic extremist groups that hijacked a largely secular rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali’s desert north last year. The rebellion, the latest in a series of revolts since the 1960s by Tuaregs seeking autonomy from Mali’s government in Bamako, the capital, mushroomed after Malian army officers staged a coup on March 22. Ironically, the military coup arose from Army frustration with Mali’s democratically-elected government was mishandling the Tuareg revolt.

Taking advantage of the political chaos, the Tuaregs swept over nearly half the country, between January and April 2012, seizing control of an area the size of France, including the legendary city of Timbuktu. But hardline groups like Ansar-al-Dine, pushed the Tuareg leadership aside and imposed strict Islamic law in the captured region. Punishments included floggings, amputation of limbs and executions. Most music was forbidden and several historic tombs were destroyed.

Ansar-al-Dine cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, the State Department said. During Ansar-al-Dine’s March 2012 attack on the town of Aguelhok, the group executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more.

The request of Mali’s new government France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent troops and aircraft to halt an insurgent threat to Bamako in January. French troops aided by soldiers from Chad and other African nations have driven the insurgents back almost to the Algerian border.

AFRICOM VS. al Shebaab

Speaking of extremists, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says another violent Islamist group, al-Shabaab in East Africa has been “significantly weakened from a year ago.” Army Gen. Carter Ham told the House Armed Services Committee last week (March 15) that AFRICOM was assisting partner nations battle three other violent groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Ham noted that while there’s been good progress against al-Shabaab by the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia as well as Ethiopian and Somali forces, the group is still dangerous and capable of unconventional attacks to disrupt AMISOM operations as well as the new Somali government.

Asked if he had enough resoures to battle AQIM, Ham said there were “significant shortfalls” in equipment providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.

More on Mali

France says about 10 Islamist fighters were killed today (March 21) when French and Malin forces repelled an attack on Timbuktu, the Voice of America reports.

French President Francois Hollande said this week (March 19) that military operations in Mali are in their final phase. But military analysts are worried al-Qaeda-linked militants could return to nothern ali’s cities and towns once the French withdraw their 4,000 troops from the region. Another concern, says VOA, the Malian army is still weak. The attack on Timbuktu comes a day after a suicide car bombing killed a Malian soldier and wounded six other people at Timbuktu’s airport.

It was the first suicide attack in Timbuktu since French and Malian troops drove Islamist militants out of the ancient caravan city two months ago, the Guardian reported.

French, Malian and other African troops conducted search and destoy missions against insurgents in the area around Gao.Photo: French Ministry of Defense

French, Malian and other African troops conducted search and destroy missions against insurgents in the area around Gao.
Photo: French Ministry of Defense

March 21, 2013 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Mali Developments

France in Mali

French Rafales jets in Mali.(Copyright French Ministry of Defence)

French Rafale jets in Mali.
(Copyright French Ministry of Defence)

Fighting against Islamist extremists in the mountains of northern Mali is turning out to be taking longer than first projected, says French officials who acknowledged today (Feb. 28) that their troops will likely remain in the North West African nation until July, the Associated Press reports.

The French military intervention, which began with helicopter and fighter jet airstrikes Jan. 11, was expected to be a quick in and out operation — officials had been talking about a March pullout. But now several French officials tell the AP that the 4,000 French troops in Mali will have to stay longer.

German Mali Mission Approved

Germany's Transnall aircraft have provided  transport services in Mali.(Bundeswehr photo by Bicker)

Germany’s C-160 Transall aircraft have provided transport services in Mali.
(Bundeswehr photo by Bicker)

German lawmakers have given their permission for German military advisers to begin training Mali’s battered army. The mission was approved by lawmakers Feb. 27. As many as 350 German troops could be sent to Mali. About 180 troops will provide training, while another 150 German troops will provide logistical support including air transport and aerial refueling. But German troops will not be deployed in combat operations, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Weller (DW).

German troops have had some experience in Mali. Between 2005 and the military coup last year that spiraled into unrest and chaos, Bundesweher (German Federal Defence force) advisers have been permanently stationed in Mali, the German defense ministry told DW. Those advisers help Mali’s army set up an engineers unit.

Top Insurgent Commander Killed?

Algeria(CIA World Factbook)

Algeria
(CIA World Factbook)

French forces fighting in Mali are believed to have killed a top commander of al Qaeda’s North Africa wing according to an Algerian TV channel, Reuters reports. The TV channel said Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was killed in operations against Islamist fighters in northern Mali. The television channel Ennahar of Algeria said Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed three days ago near the border with Algeria. Reuters said Ennahar is well connected with Algeria’s security services. French and Chadian troops have been trying to dislodge fighters from northern Mali since mid-January.

February 28, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Algeria, Mali, Rise in Islamist Terror Groups, Eritrea

Algerian Hostage Siege

Algeria(CIA World Factbook)

Algeria
(CIA World Factbook)

We’ve held off posting on the seizure of hostages at a natural gas plant in eastern Algeria until the situation became a little less confused. But as far as 4GWAR is concerned, the situation is still quite confusing. The Algerian prime minister said today (Jan. 21) that 37 foreign hostages were killed in the four-day terrorist incident.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal also said a “Canadian” citizen coordinated the siege`and that seven of the foreigners killed — during the initial seizure of the desert plant on Jan. 16 or  in the attack by Algerian security forces that retook the plant on Jan. 19 — have yet to be identified. Five other foreigners are still missing. Seven Japanese, six Filipinos, three Americans and three Britains have been identified by their respective governments as among the confirmed dead. Others, from Britain, Norway and elsewhere are listed as unaccounted for, according to Reuters.

The Algerians say about 700 Algerian workers and 100 other foreigners survived the ordeal at the In Amenas plant near the border with Libya.

Reuters also reported that an Algerian security source told the  news agency that documents found on the bodies of two militants had identified them as Canadians. At a news conference in Algiers the Algerian prime minister said a Canadian was among the militants, adding that: “He was coordinating the attack.”

A leader of the terrorist group, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the attack on the gas plant in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali which Islamist militants are threatening to overrun. The AQIM says it was also punishing Alegerian officials for granting French military aircraft flyover permission on their way to Mali (See story below and note the border Mali shares with Algeria in the map above).

In a separate story from London, Reuters reported that Britain said it would increase counter-terrorism and intelligence aid to Algeria and consider giving more help to France in the fight against Islamists in Mali. But Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out any chance of direct British military intervention in Africa.

More on Mali

Mali and its neighbors(CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

French and Malian troops have retaken two towns from Islamic militants several news organizations are reporting. The joint force took control of Diabaly and Douentza today (Jan. 21), although BBC reports the towns had been abandoned by militant Islamist fighters fled both towns last week after a French bombing campaign. Diabaly is about 250 miles northeast of Mali’s capital of Bamako. Douentza is about another 250 miles northeast of the capital. Diabaly was the southern-most point held by the militants, Bloomberg reported. Mali is one of Africa’s leading gold-producing countries — even though its people are desperately poor, according to Bloomberg.

The French began airstrikes using helicopters and fighter jets on Jan. 11 to halt the militants’ advance on the capital. They were concerned about Mali becoming a launching pad for terror attacks against Europe. About 2,000 French troops are in Mali already with another 500 expected, although the France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, insists it don’t plan to stay for a long time in an Afghanistan-like mission in Mali.

First Nigerian troops arrive in Mali(French Ministry of defense photo)

First Nigerian troops arrive in Mali
(French Ministry of defense photo)

Meanwhile, an international force from several West African nations is beginning to form. Already about 250 soldiers from Nigeria, Togo and  Senegal are in Mali. Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Ghana and Guinea have all pledged to send troops. Chad has pledged to send 2,000 troops and Nigeria will send 1,200 according to the BBC. Funding the coalition force as well as coordinating action among troops from many lands speaking many languages is still a concern.

“The crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over into Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on our collective security, political stability and development efforts,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wrote earlier this month in a letter to the country’s Senate requesting approval of the troop deployment in Mali, according to Bloomberg. Nigeria is dealing with terror attacks by its own Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the objective in Mali was to “totally reconquer” the area seized by nomadic Tuareg nationalists and militant Islamist fundamentalist groups like Ansar Dine, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The African Threat

Do the Algerian hostage raid and French intervention in Mali — coming on the heels of Islamist militant attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia  signal a widening of the so-called War on Terror or an expansion of jihad from Southwest Asia and the Middle East to Africa?

A number of analysts have weighed in on that question. Here is a sampling:

BBC: How was France dragged into the Malian conflict?

The Guardian: The danger of mission creep on al Qaida’s new frontier

The New York Times: North Africa is a New Test

ABC: Panetta says U.S. Assistance to French in Mali Could Serve as a Model

TIME: As Algeria Body Count Grows, Officials Analyze Terrorist Threat — and Whether the Attack Had Inside Help

Coup Stuck

Eritrea and its neighbors(CIA Word Factbook)

Eritrea and its neighbors
(CIA Word Factbook)

An attempted military coup in Eritrea, a country sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, has apparently failed.

Eritrea, which sits just above the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea, has one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in Africa, according to the New York Times. The country won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991after a 30-year war of rebellion.

Eritrea has waged war at one time or another with nearly all of its neighbors. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the country because of suspected support for Somali militants.

On Monday (Jan. 21) mutinous troops stormed the Ministry of Information and siezed the state-run television service (often a first step in seizing power in coups and revolutions). But apparently nobody took to the streets and soldiers loyal to the government of  President Isaias Afwerki put down the would-be revolution. For details, click here and here.

January 22, 2013 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

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