Posts tagged ‘International Crime’

LAT AM: SOUTHCOM Command Change; Regional Deal on Amazon Forests

First Female Commander for SOUTHCOM.

U.S. Southern Command has changed leaders and the new chief, U.S. Army General Laura Richardson, is the first woman to head the sprawling geographic combatant command.

U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, assumes command from Defense Secretary Lloyd  Austin at SOUTHCOM Headquarters in Doral, Florida, Oct. 29, 2021.  (SOUTHCOM photo by Master Sergeant Stephen J. Caruso)

In a command change ceremony October 29 at SOUTHCOM headquarters in Doral, Florida, Navy Admiral Craig Faller, turned over U.S. military responsibility for the Latin American and Caribbean regions to Richardson. The 57-year-old general is only the second woman, after Air Force General Lori Robinson, to lead a geographic combatant command.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the ceremony as did several dignitaries from the region, including Colombia’s Minister of National Defense Diego Molano.

Austin congratulated Molano on the recent capture of Colombia’s most-wanted cartel leader, Dario Antonio Úsaga (alias Otoniel). The two defense leaders discussed deepening cooperation on strategic issues including Colombia’s contributions to global and regional security, migration, cyber defense, and intelligence. They also stressed the importance of respect for democracy and human rights in all aspects of the bilateral defense relationship, according to the Pentagon.

SOUTHCOM is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation in its assigned area of responsibility which includes Central America (but not Mexico), South America and the Caribbean.

During the war in Iraq, Richardson commanded an assault helicopter battalion and flew missions to support troops on the ground, Austin noted. She later commanded U.S. Army North, before taking command of SOUTHCOM. “There isn’t a crisis that she can’t handle,” Austin said.

Reflecting on his nearly three years at SOUTHCOM, Faller noted that democracies in the Western Hemisphere have been under assault from a vicious circle of threats, the Tampa Bay Times reported. They include corruption, climate change, COVID-19, major hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes, and transnational criminal organizations as well as “the corrosive, malign influence of the People’s Republic of China.”

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Curbing Amazon Deforestation.

The week before the SOUTHCOM ceremony, after high-level talks in Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a regional partnership to address deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

“We’ll give much-needed financial assistance to help manage protected areas and Indigenous territories, and we’ll help scale up low-carbon agricultural practices to farmers throughout the Amazon,” Blinken said October 21, in the capital, Bogota, the VoA website reported.

“This new regional partnership will help prevent up to 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere while capturing another 52,000 metric tons of carbon, and we estimate it will save — save — more than 45,000 hectares of forest,” he added.

Deforestation in the Maranhão state of Brazil, in 2016. (Photo by Ibama from Brasil – Operação Hymenaea, Julho/2016, via wikipedia)

The Amazon spans eight countries in South America, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The Amazon and other rainforests are crucial because they take in carbon dioxide and produce about one-fifth of the world’s oxygen. About a third of Colombia is in the Amazon.

October 31, 2021 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Illegal Fishing Threat; Expeditionary Sea Base off Africa; Super Tucanos to Nigeria

Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated Fishing.

The vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard says Vice Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan said illegal fishing is replacing piracy as the top global maritime security threat’.

“It’s a sovereignty issue, it’s a maritime security issue and it jeopardizes nations’ economic food security,” Admiral Linda Fagan told a panel discussion on the economic and security threats posed by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space 2021 expo August 4.  “It weakens the global rules-based order that we all rely on for our standard of living,” she added.

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

Tackling IUU, Fagan said, will require both experienced leadership and close work in both building new partnerships and fostering existing ones around the globe.

“We recently had the Mohawk, a 270-foot cutter, with another nation’s coast guard on board enforcing fisheries rules,” Fagan said. “It’s those types of partnerships where we provide an asset and the other nation provides their expertise and authority to get after the threat.”

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, the former director of intelligence at U.S. Africa Command, said IUU fishing created challenges it created in other areas. She specifically cited the effects caused by China’s growing presence and activity.

“In the Gulf of Guinea, [China] is now devasting those economies,” Berg said. “They engender corruption. They continue to act to support authoritarian regimes that can ensure their continued access.”

Other crimes, such as weapons and drug trafficking, are on the increase as a direct result, Berg said. Terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Taliban are gaining influence as well, she added. To read the complete story, click here.

(©FAO photo by Matthew Camilleri/FAO)

In addition to IUU fishing, the activities of fishers and vessels that engage in IUU fishing can constitute, lead to, or go hand-in-hand with, other crimes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Fisheries-related crimes are closely linked with the fishing operation –even if not considered illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing — because they may not constitute fishing as such. Examples of fisheries-related crimes include document fraud, for example forged fishing licenses, tax crimes, money laundering or inappropriate working conditions.

Crimes associated with the fisheries sector are crimes that have no direct connection with fishing operations but take place on fishing vessels, or during a fishing operation and using the fishing operation as a cover or means to commit such crimes as drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking even piracy, the FAO says..

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Woodie to African Waters.

The Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) is the first warship permanently assigned to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.

Officers assigned to ESB 4 participated in a maritime interoperability planning event with leaders from the Nigerian Navy, on August 7 and later joined a three-day at sea training exercise with Nigerian offshore patrol vessels and members of Ghana’s Special Boat Squadron (SBS). Over the last decade, Gulf of Guinea nations have steadily increased their capability of working together and sharing information.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelly M. Agee)

“Woody” Williams made a scheduled port visit to Dakar, Senegal from June 21 to June 25. , 2021.

In May, ESB 4 conducted interoperability exercises with Algerian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Spanish, and Tunisian Naval forces during the at-sea portion of exercise Phoenix Express in the Mediterranean Sea.

USS Hershel “Woody” Williams Expeditionary Sea Base vessels are optimized to support a variety of maritime-based missions and designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets. ESBs can be enhanced to meet special operations force missions through increased communications, aviation and unmanned aircraft system support.

Attached to the U.S. Sixth Fleet and based at Souda Bay, Greece plies the U.S. Naval Forces Africa area of responsibility, which includes the Mediterranean Sea and waters off East, West and South Africa.

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Super Tucanos to Nigeria.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) officially welcomed six A-29 Super Tucanos, light turboprop aircraft manufactured by Brazil’s Embraer and the U.S.-based Sierra Nevada Corporation at a ceremony in Abuja, the capital, hosted by Nigerian Minister of Defense Bashir Salihi Magashi on August 31, according to U.S. Africa Command.

(Photo by U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.)

Six more Super Tucanos will be delivered later this year in a deal set to cost the Nigerian government about $500 million, according to the Council on Foreign Relations website.

The aircraft will assist the Nigerian Air Force in their fight against violent extremist organizations including the Islamic State West Africa Province. The joint structure of air-to-ground integration also supports Nigerian Army and Navy operations.

A total of 64 pilots and maintainers from the Nigerian Air Force trained to U.S. standards with the U.S. Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Base in Georgia, USA. Training also emphasized the Law of Armed Conflict and civilian casualty mitigation, which are fundamental principles of the Nigerian military’s professional education and training.

September 9, 2021 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: China’s Growing Influence in Africa; Nigeria Wants AFRICOM HQ Relocated from Germany to Africa

China Worries AFRICOM Chief

The top U.S. military officer in Africa says he is concerned about China’s growing commercial and military influence there — including plans to locate a large naval port somewhere on the continent’s Atlantic coast.

West Coast of Africa (CIA World Fact Book)

In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend said Beijing is looking to establish a port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa’s western coast. Townsend said the Peoples Republic of CFhina (PRC) has contacted countries stretching from Mauritania to Namibia, intent on establishing a naval facility. If realized, that prospect would enable China to base warships in its expanding Navy in the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans, the AP reported.

“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” said Townsend, who heads U.S. Africa Command. The People’s Liberation Army Navy opened a base on Africa’s East Coast in Djibouti in 2017. “Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there,” the AFRICOM commander said.

The U.S. base in Djibouti – Camp Lemmonier, a former French Foreign Legion post – is America’s only permanent base on the African continent (See story below). The U.S. and PRC bases are only 12 kilometers (just under 7.5 miles) apart, near the strategic Horn of Africa that overlooks waterways (Red Sea, Gulf of Aden) that link Europe via the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean and South Asia.

In written testimony submitted to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee April 20, Townsend noted the PRC has been investing heavily in Africa, pledging $60 billion in infrastructure and development — and increasing arms sales to African countries.

“Beijing’s activities in Africa are outpacing those of the United States and our allies as they seek resources and markets to feed economic growth in China and leverage economic tools to increase their global reach and influence. The People’s Republic of China has 52 embassies in Africa, three more than the U.S., and they continue to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters—completing a large naval pier this year,” Townsend told the congressional panel.

U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, testifies before Congress in April 2021. (U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs photo)

“Beijing seeks to open additional bases, tying their commercial seaport investments in East, West and Southern Africa closely with involvement by Chinese military forces in order to further their geo-strategic interests,” he added.

Other U.S. commanders have raised similar alarms about PRC expansionist activities. Your 4GWAR editor has reported about China’s actions in the Western Hemisphere (U.S. Southern and Northern Commands) and the Indo-Pacific region, for the SEAPOWER website.

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Nigeria Wants AFRICOM HQ in Africa

Nigeria’s embattled president wants U.S. Africa Command to move its headquarters from Germany to the African continent, as armed violence and terrorist attacks continue in West Africa’s Sahel region.

From left to right: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and Nigerian Geoffrey Onyeama meet virtually April 27, 2021. (U.S. State Dept. screen capture)

In a virtual meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 27, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari said the United States should consider moving its military headquarters for Africa, to help battle a series of recent clashes with armed rebels, as well as continued efforts to push back on militant Islamist groups like Boko Haram, The Hill website reported.

“Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM headquarters… near the theatre of operation,” said Buhari, according a statement issued by the presidency, Reuters reported.

Nigerian security forces face multiple security challenges including school kidnappings by armed gangs in its northwest and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as well as the decade-long insurgency by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which also carries out attacks in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad, the news agency noted. (See story below).

In the latest incident, at least seven police officers were killed in Nigeria’s oil-rich Rivers State on May 7. Gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint in the southern state, then drove to two police stations, killing officers and burning patrol cars, the BBC reported. Police killed two of the attackers but are searching for those who escaped. It was not clear who was behind the killings, but the region has seen a surge in separatist attacks on police, BBC noted.

Dissatisfaction with Buhari’s handling of the security threats has grown in recent weeks among civil society, political and religious groups. A former army general, Buhari was elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 on promises to subdue jihadist extremists, who have killed over 36,000 and displaced more than two million. But six years later, things are getting worse. Boko Haram is expanding its enclaves in Nigeria’s northwest, while banditry, kidnappings and communal violence is on the rise, the VoA site noted. Nigeria’s military said it will uphold the country’s democracy and warned against plots to overthrow Buhari.

West Africa’s Sahel region is in the grip of a security crisis as groups with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State attack military forces and civilians, despite help from French and United Nations forces.

In Niger, unidentified gunmen killed 16 soldiers and wounded six others in an ambush in the country’s southwest, security sources told Reuters on May 2.  The attack on an army patrol occurred the day before in the Tahoua region of the West African country, near where raids killed 137 civilians in March. It is unclear who carried out the attack.

In Cameroon, Anglophone separatists entered a French-speaking village in the West region and killed four government soldiers. The military says the separatists took weapons and freed suspects from prison before returning to their hideouts in the English-speaking North-West region. Cameroon’s separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country’s western regions, VoA reported.

The conflict has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced 550,000 people to flee to French-speaking regions of Cameroon or into neighboring Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

Buhari’s request Blinken was a reversal of previous President Umaru Yar’Adua’s opposition to AFRICOM command establishing a presence on African soil. In fact, when then-President George W. Bush created the U.S. military’s sixth geographic combatant command there was a pretty large outcry in Africa that this was just another imperialistic move by a Western power. Only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, but U.S. officials decided to keep the headquarters in Stuttgart Germany.

The April 27 U.S.-Nigerian meeting came a week after one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, died in clashes with rebel groups.

Deby had been with troops battling rebel groups based across the northern border in Libya at the time of his death, though the exact cause was not immediately clear, the New York Times reported.

The late Chadian president had long been considered an ally of the U.S. and France in the fight against Islamist extremists in the region, though rebel groups had repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on political opponents.

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Unrest in Chad after President’s Death.

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, a transitional council of military officers named Déby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, interim president, Reuters reported. The council also announced that an election for the next president will be held in 18 months. Until then, the government and National Assembly have been dissolved, and the country is under a nationwide curfew, according to the New York Times.

However, opposition to the undemocratic power shift is growing. The African Union has called for an end to military rule in Chad. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council voiced “grave concern” about the military takeover which put 37-year-old General Mahamat Déby Itno in charge and saw parliament dissolved, the BBC reported.

Opposition parties have also condemned what they called a “dynastic coup”.

Meanwhile, Chad’s ruling military council are seeking support from its central African neighbors in fighting rebels who they say endanger a smooth return to civilian rule.A delegation sent to Cameroon told the neighboring state’s president that without peace, a transition to civilian rule will be impossible. Chad’s opposition says the military rulers should immediately step down if they genuinely want peace to be restored.

Abdelkerim Idriss Deby, deputy director of cabinet Abdelkerim, said Chad has been witnessing a series of protests and deadly rebel attacks that are threatening its unity since Deby died, according to VoA, He said Chad’s military council has sent him to all member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community to explain plans the military leaders have for a smooth transition to civilian rule. He said Chad needs the assistance of its neighbors for peace to return.

May 8, 2021 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

LAT AM: China, Russia Capitalizing on Organized Crime Chaos; Politics and COVID-19 in Brazil.

Dual Threat.

The chaos created by transnational organized crime groups in Central and South America is creating opportunities for China and Russia to undermine United States influence in the Western Hemisphere, two top U.S. military commanders say.

The littoral combat ship USS Wichita (LCS 13) conducts a bi-lateral maritime exercise with naval counterparts from the Dominican Republic on March 24, 2021. Wichita is deployed to support the Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter narcotics trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Two of the most significant threats are China and transnational criminal organizations,” Navy Admiral Craig Faller told a House Armed Services Committee hearing April 14. Faller, the commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), said China is the “Number One strategic threat of the 21st century,” adding that the Chinese Communist Party — with what he called its “insidious, corrosive and corrupt influence” was seeking “global dominance.”

Faller said China was increasing its influence in the Western Hemisphere with more than 40 commercial seaport deals, making significant loans for political and economic leverage, pushing its IT structure and “engaging in predatory practices” like illegal fishing by industrial fleets.

Southcom’s 2021 posture statement to Congress noted that South and Central America have been reeling under a wave of challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic that has savaged Brazil, political instability and corruption in Venezuela and back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Central America,  prompting mass migrations north. The statement notes external state actors like China and Russia are “looking to exploit the conditions posed by these threats.”

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), agreed, saying the rise of transnation criminal organizations and the “subsequent instability they create, has generated opportunities for our competitors to exploit.”

To read more of this article by your 4GWAR editor, click here.

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Brazil’s Troubles.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that the army might be called into the streets to restore order if lockdown measures against COVID-19 — that he opposes — lead to chaos.

In an April 23 television interview with TV Criticia in the Amazon city of Manaus, Bolsonaro repeated his frequent criticism of restrictions imposed by local governments to curb infections — measures he claims do more harm than good, the Associated Press reported (via the Stars and Stripes website).

(Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
(Photo by Marcos Corrêa/PR via wikipedia)

The right-wing populist president called lockdowns and quarantine “absurd,” adding “If we have problems … we have a plan of how to act. I am the supreme head of the armed forces.”

Concerns about a military takeover in Brazil — like the one in 1964 that lasted for 20 years — have grown after the leaders of Brazil’s army. navy and air force all resigned March 30 when Bolsonaro replaced the defense minister. The government shake-up began, according to NPR, after Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo tendered his resignation. A few hours later, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva said that he too was leaving the government.

Bolsonaro, is under intense pressure and mounting criticism as Brazil’s coronavirus cases spin further out of control. The departures accompany lawmakers’ threats to impeach Bolsonaro as well as his dropping popularity with the public.

Bolsonaro said April 7 that he had asked the armed forces if they had troops available to control possible social unrest from the COVID-19 crisis — adding to fears that he is pushing the military into a political role.

Critics fret that Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, aims to marshal the army and police as a political force ahead of a fraught 2022 election, Reuters reported.

Bolsonaro has long sought to minimize the coronavirus, has shunned masks and was slow to purchase vaccines. Recently, he has suggested Brazilians could revolt against stay-at-home measures imposed by governors and mayors.

Brazil’s health crisis is being described as a “humanitarian catastrophe” by the international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym, MSF), which has teams in parts of the country, NPR reported.

“The Brazilian authorities’ … refusal to adopt evidence-based public health measures has sent far too many to an early grave,” MSF’s international president Dr. Christos Christou said in a statement on April 14.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths remain high in Brazil as the country’s campaign to vaccinate against the disease stumbles, according to the VoA website.

With more than 386,414 total deaths, Brazil has the second highest toll in the world from the pandemic, behind only the United States, which has recorded 571,883 COVID fatalities, as of April 24.

People wait in the observation area after receiving their COVID-19 vaccination at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City April 13, 2021. The convention center serves as a mass vaccination site with more than 600 National Guard personnel assisting. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Specialist Li Ji)

Just over 5 percent of the population of South America’s largest nation’s has been fully vaccinated. The United States has fully vaccinated more than 26 percent of its population, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

ICU wards in cities within Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area are reportedly nearly full, with many patients sharing space and oxygen bottles. Brazil’s vaccination campaign has been slow because of supply issues. The country’s two biggest laboratories face supply constraints.

The nation’s health ministry bet on a single vaccine, the AstraZeneca shot, and after supply problems surfaced, bought only one backup, the Chinese-manufactured CoronaVac.

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More Covid Woes.

Brazil is far from the only South American country hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Peru has one of the highest COVID-19 totals in Latin America, with more than 1,745,000 cases and 59,012 deaths as of April 24, according to Johns Hopkin University Covid Resource Center

Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America.

Peru began new nationwide restrictions for one month starting April 19, a day after reaching a new record of COVID-19 deaths. The country’s health ministry registered 433 COVID-19 related deaths on Sunday April 18, following a steady increase in deaths this month, the VoA website reported.

The new government order also places limits on the size of gatherings and the mandatory social curfew accordance comes with threat alert levels, beginning with moderate, high, very high, and extreme risk.

The capital, Lima, is listed at the extreme risk level, meaning residents are prohibited from going outside on Sundays, the state run Andina News Agency reported. The decree also extends the national state of emergency for 31 days (about one month), beginning May 1.

Other countries south of the U.S. border with high COVID-19 infection and death rates include: Argentina with 2,824,652 cases and 61,474 deaths; Colombia with 2,740,544 cases and 70,886 deaths; Mexico,  2,323,430 cases, and 214,841 deaths; Chile 1,162,811 cases and 25,742 deaths; Panama 362,358 cases and 6,207 deaths; Venezuela with 185,278 cases and  2,028 deaths, as of April 24.

April 24, 2021 at 11:21 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: International Women’s Day 2021

Women’s Day.

March is Women’s History Month but today, Monday, March 8, 2021 is International Women’s Day.

We thought we’d mark this special occasion with some news, and four pictures that are worth a thousand words.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command chief (right) learns the features of an all-terrain vehicle in 2020 at Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant David W. Carbajal)

On March 6, the White House announced a slate of nominees to lead a trio of U.S. combatant commands — including two women whose nominations were previously held up over concerns they would not be approved by then-President Donald Trump.

According to Defense News, Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost, who took over Air Mobility Command in August, has been nominated to lead U.S. Transportation Command, which oversees .

Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North speaks with fire fighters and soldiers during the 2020 wildland fire in California’s Mendocino National Forest.  (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Michael Ybarra)

And Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, currently the head of U.S. Army North, has been nominated for a fourth star and to take over U.S. Southern Command.

And below are some photos from the Defense Department website, showing the numerous roles women play in today’s U.S. armed forces. Click on all photos to enlarge the image.

(U.S. National Guard photo by Army Chief Master Sergeant David H. Lipp)

 

Master Sergeant Jennifer Freeman, a member of the first female biathlon team from the North Dakota National Guard, takes aim at range targets during the Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships at the Camp Ripley Training Center, near Little Falls, Minnesota on February 24, 2021.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Kevin G. Rivas)

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Kylee Daitz, a field artillery officer, with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division, trains as a joint fire observer during exercise Winter Fury 21 at Camp Roy W. Burt, California on January 29, 2021. Joint fire observers are responsible for requesting, controlling, and adjusting close air support fire such as artillery, mortars, and naval surface gunfire.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sergeant Matt Hecht)

Army Sergeant Kendra Hallett, left, receives the Covid-19 vaccine from Air Force Technical Sergeant Deborah Macalalad of the 108th Medical Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, February 21, 2021.

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Gabrielle Huezo)

Quartermaster 3rd Class Makayla Roney and Quartermaster 2nd Class Stephanie Torres stand quartermaster of the watch aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams ( on February 25 2021. The Williams is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific.

March 8, 2021 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Amazon Militias; Replacing Mexican Military with Police

Guarding the Rainforest.

Brazil (CIA World Fact book)

Brazil
(CIA World Fact book)

Illegal logging in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest is down — thanks largely to armed militias of indigenous peoples guarding their reserves, which make up about a fifth of the Amazon region.

Armed with shotguns and other assorted weaponry, these ragtag guardians have stopped illegal loggers, tied them up, torched their trucks and tractors and chased them off, the Washington Post reports in a front page story Wednesday (October 7).

As a result, such logging has sharply declined in these territories. But the indigenous groups have faced reprisal attacks and death threats for their actions, raising fears of more violence in an area known for its lawlessness, according to the Post. In a rare visit to the reserves permitted by the indigenous tribes, Washington Post journalists found that many residents support the militias. But others are uneasy about relying on informal armed groups to resolve a problem that should fall to the Brazilian government.

The clashes highlight the continuing grave threat to the Amazon, the world’s biggest remaining rain forest, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the world’s climate and biodiversity. From 2005 to 2012, deforestation plunged in Brazil, as the government increased its conservation efforts and cracked down on illegal loggers. But since then, the numbers have begun to creep up again. In 2014 alone, almost 2,000 square miles of Amazon rain forest were cleared by farmers, loggers and others the Post said.

The Brazilian government sees the rain forest and the waters of the Amazon as key natural resources that needs to be guarded as much as oil reserves off the Atlantic Coast of Brazil

A 2014 report by the World Resource Institute, a Washington-based think tank, found that rural communities and indigenous peoples across the world have government-recognized rights to forests containing 37.7 billion tons of carbon—equivalent to 29 times the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the world. In total, deforestation and other land uses represents 11 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

In Brazil alone, the report stated, strong legal rights could contribute to preventing 27.2 million hectares of deforestation by 2050, translating to 12 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions that don’t get into the atmosphere. That’s the same as about three years’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions from all Latin American and Caribbean countries.

President Dilma Rousseff has promised to reduce illegal logging in the Amazon by 2030. She and President Obama in a visit to Washington over the summer, have agreed to work more closely on curbing deforestation of the Amazon and boosting renewable energy.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian audit court has ruled that Rousseff broke the law in managing last year’s budget, according to the BBC.

The government was accused of borrowing money illegally from state banks to make up for budget shortfalls. The opposition says the court’s ruling – which reports to Brazil’s Congress – paves the way for impeachment proceedings against Ms. Rousseff, the BBC said. She was re-elected less than a year ago but has record low popularity ratings, according to the BBC. The Brazilian government says it would challenge Wednesday’s ruling in the Supreme Court

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Bringing Back Police.

Mexico map (CIA World Factbook)

Mexico map
(CIA World Factbook)

The United Nations’ top human rights official wants the Mexican government to set a timetable for replacing military personnel in law enforcement duties  with well-trained police.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said Wednesday (October 7) that the government should return soldiers to their barracks because military forces aren’t designed to do police work, the Associated Press reported.

Mexican soldiers and marines began leading the fight against cartels after many police units proved too corrupt or inefficient to take them on. Zeid was scathing in his assessment of how Mexico’s police, judicial and investigative system have failed Mexicans, leading to 26,000 disappearances and thousands of killings that remain unsolved, the AP said.

Zeid said Mexico’s defense secretary, General Salvador Cienfuegos, told him the army doesn’t desire a policing role. But Zeid added that better police forces have to be trained before Mexico’s army withdraws or the military will leave a vacuum.

 

 

 

October 9, 2015 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: C.A.R. Violence Continues; U.S. Special Ops Chasing Kony

U.N. peacekeepers and Central African Republic National Police conduct a joint operation in the capital Bangui. Photo: UN/MINUSCA/Nektarios Markogiannis

U.N. peacekeepers and Central African Republic National Police conduct a joint operation in the capital Bangui.
Photo: UN/MINUSCA/Nektarios Markogiannis

The interim president of Central African Republic (C.A.R.) left the United Nations General Assembly opening in New York early this week because of the worst violence this year has broken out in the nation’s  capital, Bangui.

President Catherine Samba-Panza arrived home Wednesday (September 30), according to Reuters (via the Voice of America website), but has yet to make a public statement.

At least 39 people have died in inter-communal clashes, raising doubts about a planned election in mid October.The vote is aimed at restoring democracy to a country following a rebellion and years of turmoil. The violence broke out despite appeals by world leaders and local politicians and the presence of French and United Nations peacekeepers.

Thousands of Central Africans have died and hundreds of thousands remain displaced after two years of violence that erupted after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013. Seleka abuses sparked reprisals by Christian “anti-balaka” fighters that drove most Muslims from the south in a de facto partition of the country.

Protesters alleged U.N. peacekeepers and French forces did little to intervene in violence Saturday (September 26) and called for the sidelined Central African army, the FACA, to assume responsibility for security, Al Jazeera reported. French and U.N. forces have been trying to halt the violence since first intervening in December 2013. About 900 French soldiers remain in the former French colony, down from about 2,000 last year.

On Tuesday (September 29) United Nations officials continued to voice their concern over the situation – where more than 30 people have been killed, over 100 have been wounded and thousands are seeking shelter amid the recent upsurge in violence. U.N. officials stressed the need for free movement for aid workers to reach those in need.

According to the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MINUSCA), tensions persist in Bangui, which was the scene of attacks against civilians, violence between communities and attacks against humanitarian personnel since a young Muslim man was murdered on Saturday.

“MINUSCA is conducting patrols around critical areas, with the view of protecting civilians, including one Muslim and two Christian districts in Bangui,” U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

*** *** ***

Special Ops in C.A.R.

Central African Republic (Map from CIA orld Factbook)

Central African Republic
(Map from CIA World Factbook)

Amid the violence in the Central African Republic comes news that U.S. special operations forces aiding in the search for the brutal warlord Joseph Kony are camped out “in a lawless enclave” in the C.A.R. on the borders of Sudan and South Sudan,” the Washington Post reports.

Citing military officials and others familiar with the operation, the Post reports the U.S. special operators are dealing with “some unsavory partners to help find Kony’s trail”  — the Muslim Seleka rebels, whose brutal actions two years ago spawned the chaos in the C.A.R.

Tht Post said the arrangement has made some U.S. troops uncomfortable. The Seleka rebels “are playing us,” one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Post. The official described Seleka as a “mafia” that is trying to curry favor with the Americans even as the rebels extort local villagers and engage in illicit trade with Kony’s fugitive fighters.

President Obama first sent U.S. forces to central Africa in 2011 to aid several African militaries hunt Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, which has terrorized Central Africa for more than two decades.  Obama will have decide in October whether to reauthorize the deployment and extend it for at least another year.

Several members of Congress think that is exactly what he should do, according to The Hill newspaper. “The United States and other members of the international community must retain our resolve to capture or remove the leaders of the (Lord’s Resistance Army) and any terrorist group the threaten the lives and well being of innocent people worldwide,” said Representative Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican and chairman of the Africa Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and ranking member on the subcommittee, echoed Smith’s sentiments. Noting that it’s been reported the LRA has dwindled to perhaps as few as small as 200 fighters. “Their intimate knowledge of the inhospitable central African landscapes and total disregard for human life continues to make them a clear and present danger,” she said. Bass called on her colleagues in Congress as well as other U.S. government agencies “to sustain our efforts to rid central Africa of Joseph Kony.”

September 30, 2015 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Notorious Mexican Drug Lord Escapes from Prison — Again

Get Shorty – Again.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera (Photo from DEA wanted circular)

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera
(Photo from DEA wanted circular)

Back in February we reported that the man considered the most powerful narco crime lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, had been recaptured by Mexican authorities after his 2001 escape from a Mexican prison.

Now word comes from Mexico that Guzman Loera has escaped from prison again. Mexican authorities once again are pledging to “Get Shorty,” — El Chapo means “Shorty.”

The kingpin snuck out of the prison through a subterranean tunnel more than 1.5 km (1 mile) long that ended at an abandoned property near the local town, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido told a news conference on Sunday (July 12), Reuters and other news organizations reported.

Guzman, who had bribed his way out of prison during an escape in 2001, was seen on video entering his shower area at 8:52 p.m. on Saturday (0152 GMT Sunday), then disappeared, the National Security Commission (CNS) said.

The escape from the maximum security Atliplano prison is a political embarrassment for the Mexican government and a personal one for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has portrayed the capture of Guzman and other drug kingpins as a key to restoring safety and security in Mexico where the long battle between government forces and organized crime that has cost tens of thousands of lives sine 2007.

Guzman became infamous in 2001 after escaping from a high security prison and building up the Sinaloa Cartel – named for his home state and known for beheading its enemies or hanging their bodies in public places.

 

July 12, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Brazil Rainforest Battle; U.S.-Brazil Relations

Fighting Illegal Amazon Logging.

Amazon Basin. The yellow line encloses Amazon Basin as delineated by the World Wide Fund for Nature. National boundaries are shown in black. (Image by NASA, boundaries by Pfly, via wikipedia.)

Amazon Basin. The yellow line encloses Amazon Basin as delineated by the World Wide Fund for Nature. National boundaries are shown in black.
(Image by NASA, boundaries by Pfly, via wikipedia.)

Government officials in Brazil say fighting illegal logging of the Amazon rainforest is like battling illegal narcotics operations elsewhere.

Maria Luisa de Sousa has been co-ordinating a month-long operation to halt illegal logging in northern and eastern Mato Grosso state by the government-funded institute responsible for environmental protection. She says the fight to save the Amazon is increasingly a fight against organized crime. “You can compare it to the struggle against drugs trafficking. The crime and the criminals keep on adapting,” she tells the BBC in a piece today (July 9) on the battle to save the rainforest.

De Sousa’s organization, Ibama, uses helicopters to spot timber poachers from the air. But in the future, unmanned aircraft are expected to join the fight to preserve the Amazon region — which represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and has been called the Lungs of the World. Last May in Atlanta, at the huge annual robotics conference of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), several unmanned aircraft manufacturers told 4GWAR that they expected the need to persistent aerial surveillance in the Amazon region and elsewhere in Brazil will heat up the Latin American market for drones  — large and small. We’ll be writing more about this at 4GWAR in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC report by ew monthly figures show that deforestation rates in some parts of Brazil have almost doubled compared to last year. Those statistics also show that increasing amounts of wood are illegally taken from protected indigenous reserves.

Back in 2010, Brazil announced a new strategic defense plan calling for increased military presence in the Amazon region to link national defense with national development by protecting and leveraging Brazil’s large water, agricultural and energy resources. That plan called for building up Air Force, Army and Navy capabilities including five new submarines and supplying its own satellite imagery — rather than but it from other countries.

Even though President Dilma Rousseff has cut government spending as the country staggers through a contracting economy, Brazil is still among the top 15 countries with the highest military spending in 2014, according to data gathered by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

*** *** ***

Brazil-U.S. Relations.

Dilma Rousseff Official photo via Wikipedia

Dilma Rousseff Official photo via Wikipedia

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited Washington in late June and met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. And that seemed to signal that after two years of acrimony, the two countries were moving to reset their relations, according to an article in the World Politics Review.

Bilateral relations cooled significantly after revelations in 2013 by rogue National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of U.S. eavesdropping on Brazilian officials — including Rousseff. The Brazilian president cancelled her state visit scheduled for that October, after the scandal broke.

In the intervening years, Russia has sought closer ties with Brazil — particularly in defense technology sales. Brazil is set to buy Russian Pantsir air defense systems in early 2016.

Last Fall, Brazil announced it was buying its next generation fighter jets from Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab. Brazile will pay $5.4 billion (39.3 billion Swedish krona) for 36 new Saab Gripen NG jetfighter airplanes.

Brazil (CIA World Fact book)

Brazil (CIA World Fact book)

 

 

July 9, 2015 at 10:48 pm Leave a comment

CYBER SECURITY: Coast Guard Commandant Discusses Cyber Strategy

Cyber Hygiene.

U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command Seal

U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command Seal

In a world where North Korea can hack a movie production company’s internal communication and employee data as an act of revenge and diplomatic pique and U.S. authorities are looking into cyber spying on a Major League Baseball team — possibly by another team — it should come as no surprise that another U.S. government agency is upping its cyber defense game.

The U.S. Coast Guard has developed a cyber strategy to guide its priorities over the next 10 years. Those priorities include: defending U.S. cyberspace and the Coast Guard’s network; recognizing cyberspace as an operational domain and defend the Coast Guard’s information and communication networks while developing capabilities to detect, deter and defeat malicious activity in cyberspace; protecting the information system infrastructure that the national Maritime Transportation System relies on, which has economic and national security implications.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard’s commandant, outlined the strategy this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank. He noted that all aspects of modern life have been enhanced – but often made dependent — on information technology from mobile phones to data storage facilities. And that has made numerous entities, including the nation’s Maritime Transportation System vulnerable to a wide range of cyber attacks by adversaries ranging from terrorists and hostile nation states to transnational organized crime cartels and disaffected or sloppy IT workers.

A key defense, Zukunft said several times  was “cyber hygiene,” following safety practices when using government, corporate or personal computer systems. That includes not sharing passwords or using easily corruptible devices like thumb drives.

Zukunft noted that the nation’s security and prosperity is critically reliant on a safe and secure maritime domain, which, in turn is dependent on safe and reliable communications and digital networks. But the Coast Guard faces a daunting task. The two-year-old Coast Guard Cyber Command has just 70 members compared to the thousands at the Defense Department’s cyber unit. The cyber strategy notes that a recent report to Congress indicates an 1,121-percent rise in cybersecurity incidents reported to government agencies from 2006 to 2014. The report, by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites a significant rise in the compromise of sensitive information which could adversely affect national security, public health and safety.

June 18, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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