Posts tagged ‘Mali’
AROUND AFRICA: Hostage Rescue in Mali; Kenya College Attack; Yemini Refugees; C.A.R. “Ceasefiire” [UPDATE2-April 10]
French Commando Rescue.
A Dutch national held hostage by Islamist extremists in North Africa for three years has been freed in a daring raid by French commandos.
Sjaak Rijke, abducted while vacationing in Timbuktu in November 2011, was set free in a raid on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb by French special forces on Monday (April 6), AFP reported.
French President Francois Hollande said a number of suspected jihadists were killed during the rescue. Hollande added that the French soldiers were unaware of the hostage’s location before the raid against the extremists near Tessalit in Mali’s far north, close to the border with Algeria.
Kenyan warplanes bombed militant camps in Somalia, following a vow by President Uhuru Kenyatta to respond “in the fiercest way possible” to a massacre of college students by al-Shabab extremists, the Associated Press reported.
The airstrikes Sunday (April 5) and Monday (April 6) targeted the Gedo region of western Somalia, directly across the border from Kenya, a Kenyan military official said, adding that al-Shabab camps, which were used to store arms and for logistical support, were destroyed, but it was not possible to determine the number of casualties because of poor visibility.
The Somalia-based militant group claimed responsibility for last week’s attack at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya in which 148 people were killed — most of them students.
Kenya’s response to the attack has gone beyond military action. Nairobi is ordering the closure of 13 money transfer firms to prevent Islamist extremists from using them to finance attacks, the BBC reported. The bank accounts of 85 individuals and “entities” had also been frozen, according to government officials. Among those targeted: a Somali-linked bus company and hotel.
Nearly 500,000 Somali refugees are in Kenya – many of whom fled decades of conflict and drought in Somalia.
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Refugee Crisis Expected.
Violence in the Arabian Peninsula, across the Gulf of Aden from East Africa is expected to drive thousands of refugees to the Horn of Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UNHCR reported Friday (April 10) that at least 900 people have made the journey by boat in the past 10 days. The report noted the vast majority of he new arrivals were “Somalis but also Yemenis and a small number of Ethiopian and Djiboutian nationals.” All received food and water, and health and medical checks on arrival, the UNHCR said.
The U.N. estimated that clashes between rebels and supporters of the ex-president in Yemen have killed more than 500 people and left 1,700 others wounded in less than two weeks.
And that is expected to drive thousands of refugees to Djibouti and Somalia, putting a huge strain on local resources, according to Newsweek. Djibouti has a population of just 870,000 so a large influx of people would put a huge strain on its resources, said Frederic Van Hamme, an official at the UNHCR’s Djibouti base.
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Rival Central African Republic (CAR) groups have signed a ceasefire deal in Kenya to provide the strife-torn country with a political solution.
According to al Jazeera, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted the signing of the accord Wednesday (April 8) between Anti-Balaka leader Joachim Kokate and former president and ex-Seleka leader Michel Djotodia. The two factions have been in talks in Kenya since November. Their agreement includes a deal “to stop hostilities” and another to “open a new chapter of political stability in their country” by adhering to the transitional roadmap.
But CAR’s president has said he does not recognize these talks, and they are not recognized by either the French or the United Nations.”
Making Progress, but …
Africa’s security environment remains “dynamic and uncertain” with numerous countries through out the continent plagued by crime, corruption, as well as political and economic unrest, says the head of U.S. Africa Command.
Testifying today (March 26) before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army General David Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s commander, said the command has expanded collaboration with allies and partners to address the “growing threat in Libya, Mali and Nigeria” including “an increasingly cohesive network of al Qaeda affiliates a growing Islamic State (ISIL) … presence and Boko Haram.”
Rodriguez said al-Shabaab remains the primary security threat to U.S. interests in East Africa “despite progress by regional partners in liberating parts of southern and central Somalia from the group’s control.” And in North and West Africa, Libyan and Nigerian insecurity “increasingly threaten U.S. interests. In spite of multinational security efforts, terrorist and criminal networks are gaining strength and interoperability,” he said.
Of five immediate priorities, the top two are countering violent extremism and enhancing stability in East Africa and in North and West Africa.
Rodriguez noted that AFRICOM’s engagement with partner nations has increased between Fiscal year 2013 and 2014. “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities,” he told the Senate hearing. By comparison, AFRICOM conducted “55 operations, 10 major joint exercises, and 481 security cooperation activities in Fiscal Year 2013.” But requirements are expanding faster than resources are increasing, he added.
More on this hearing later this weekend.
The brutal extremist group that calls itself Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the attack Wednesday (March 18) on Tunisia’s popular national museum that left more than 20 people dead — most of them foreign tourists, the BBC reported.
Tunisian officials say two of the attacking gunmen were also killed and as many as three accomplices may have escaped. Officials in Tunis, the North African nation’s capital, say nine people have been detained for questioning in connection with the attack.
Initial reports Wednesday said the gunmen all attacked the National Assembly which is in the same compound as the museum and where lawmakers were debating a counterterrorism bill. here were no casualties at the legislative complex. Officials now say the museum and tourists were the attack’s targets.
The extremist group said the attack was aimed as “citizens of Crusader countries” and added that it was the “first drop of rain,” the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported.
Twenty tourists from Britain, Colombia, France, Italy and Japan, came under fire as they disembarked from two tourist buses outside the Bardo National Museum. Others fled into the museum where some were taken hostage and some killed. At least two Tunisians, a female museum custodian and a security force officer, were killed in the attack.
Tunisian officials said troops were guarding key points in major cities throughout the country in the wake of the attack. Some Mediterranean cruise lines have suspended calling at Tunis for the time being, USA Today reported.
Wednesday’s assault was the worst attack involving foreigners in Tunisia since an al Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 21 people on the tourist island of Djerba in 2002, according to Reuters.
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Two Dutch United Nations peacekeepers were killed when their Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Apache attack helicopter crashed in northern Mali, Al Jazeera reports. At a press conference in the Netherlands Tuesday (March 17), the Dutch military confirmed the crash, calling it an accident.
The helicopter was conducting a firing exercise on ground targets over uninhabited terrain with another Dutch Apache when it crashed, the RNLAF said.
The accident occurred 47 kilometres to the north of the Dutch compound. Immediately after the crash, the crash site was secured by a French attack helicopter. Dutch special forces secured and guarded the site on the ground. An investigation into the cause of the accident is being mounted.
The helicopter, from the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), crashed about 20 kilometers (xx miles) from Gao in northern Mali. The pilot died on impact and he co-pilot died from his injuries at a French military field hospital at Gao on the River Niger. Both pilots were members of 301 Squadron based in Gilze-Rijen airbase in southern Netherlands.
MINUSMA has some 11,000 personnel on the ground in Mali, about 670 of them are Dutch. More than 40 peacekeepers with MINUSMA have been killed since the mission was created in 2013 to keep the peace between rebelling Tuareg tribesmen in the northern deserts and the government in Bamako to the south. Because of those numbers, according to Al Jazeera, MINUSMA is considered the most dangerous U.N. mission in the world.
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Mali Peace Talks.
Meanwhile, Mali’s government said this week that it won’t participate in further talks with rebels seeking autonomy for northern Mali.
The collapse in peace talks could leave the north’s political status open indefinitely, a situation that Islamist militants active in the region could exploit, Reuters reports.
Mediators have been working for months to get talks going between a group of Tuareg-led rebels from the north and the government in Bamako the capital in the southern part of the vast northwest African country.
Bamako signed a preliminary proposal earlier this month but the rebels erected it, saying it did not grant their region, called Azawad, enough autonomy. Those rebels took advantage of a 2012 military coup in the capital to sweep down from the north seizing territory and cities like Timbuktu. But their rebellion was hijacked by radical Islamist groups, some tied to Al Qaeda branches. They imposed harsh fundamentalist Muslim law and destroyed several holy sites revered by Muslims they consider heretics.
The rebels were threatening to capture Bamako in early 2013 when France intervened, sending troops, armored vehicles and aircraft to drive the rebels back. Eventually, a U.N. peace mission was created.
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Al Shabab Blamed.
Four people have been killed in a terror attack in northeastern Kenya about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with Somalia, the BBC reports.
Security forces said hooded men locked people inside a shop, then lobbed a hand grenade in, causing a fire.
Al Qaeda-linked al Shabab militants in Somalia said they carried out the attack — the fourth in five days in the troubled northeast region. Kenya’s northeast region has often been attacked by al Shabab, which has vowed to get revenge on Nairobi for sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to help the United Nations-backed government battle the Islamists terrorists.
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Al Shabab Official Killed.
And last week, a U.S. drone missile strike killed a top official in al Shabab’s security service, the Amniyat, according to the Voice of America website.
The March 12 airstrike hit a car carrying Adan Garaar — described by the Pentagon as working for al Shabab’s intelligence wing and also connected to the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that killed more than 60 people.
Last month al Shabab released a video that called for attacks on Western shopping malls. The Mall of America, one of the largest in the United States, is in Minnesota, which has a large Somali immigrant population.
Prosecutors say dozens of people from Minnesota, many of them Somali-Americans, have traveled or attempted to travel overseas to support groups such as the Islamic State or al Shabab since 2007.
U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned about the potential for radicalization among embers of immigrants communities.
French Hostage Released.
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.
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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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.
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.
AROUND AFRICA: U.S. Ebola Response, Nigeria College Attacked, U.N. Peacekeepers Killed in Mali UPDATE
UPDATES Ebola Roundup with aid pledge from Canada, Sierra Leone shutting down for three days and report of health workers and journalists found dead in Guinea.
The death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has gone over 2,600, according to the World Health Organization.
At least 2,630 people have died and at least 5,357 people have been infected, the WHO said Thursday (September 18), according to Reuters.
In an update on the epidemic, which is raging through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – and has spread to Senegal and Nigeria, the U.N. health agency said there were no signs of the outbreak slowing, said Reuters.
Several Western governments – criticized for not doing enough — have stepped up their assistance in fighting the fast-moving virus, for which there is no known cure.
President Barack Obama says the United States will send 3,000 military personnel to West Africa where they will erect new treatment and isolation facilities, train health care workers and increase communications and transportation support, according to The Associated Press.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the 3,000 troops would not provide direct care to Ebola patients, the AP reported. A substantial number will be stationed at an intermediate base in Senegal, Earnest said, with others at locations in Liberia where they will provide logistical, training, engineering and other support.
Obama said the Ebola outbreak is now an epidemic “of the likes that we have not seen before. It is spiraling out of control … The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said during a visit to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) where he consulted with health officials about the U.S. response to Ebola. “Right now, the world has the responsibility to act – to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more,” Obama added.
France says it will set up a military hospital in West Africa as part of its contribution to the fight against Ebola. President Francois Hollande said Thursday (September 18) that the facility will be set up “in the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak,” according to Reuters.
Earlier this week, Canada said it will donate $2.5 million worth of the specialized medical gear used to protect health-care workers who are treating Ebola patients, The Canadian Press reported.
In a bid to reduce its Ebola infection rate, Sierra Leone will “close down” the country for three days beginning Friday (September 19), according to information minister Alpha Kanu.
Current figures show there are 1,400 cases of the Ebola disease in Sierra Leone, according to Kanu, the Voice of America reported. Sierra Leone is one of three hard-hit Western African nations being overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading deadly virus.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports officials in Guinea searching for a team of health workers and journalists who went missing while trying to raise awareness of Ebola have found several bodies.
A spokesman for Guinea’s government said the bodies included those of three journalists in the team. The group was reported missing after being attacked Tuesday (September 16) in a village near the southern city of Nzerekore.
On Thursday night, a Guinea government spokesman, Albert Damantang Camara, said eight bodies had been found, including those of three journalists.
He said they had been recovered from the septic tank of a primary school in the village, adding that the victims had been “killed in cold blood by the villagers”.
The reason for the killings is unclear, but correspondents say many people in the region distrust health officials and have refused to co-operate with authorities, fearing that a diagnosis means certain death, the BBC said. Last month, riots erupted on rumors that medics who were disinfecting a market were contaminating people.
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Nigeria College Attack
Gunmen have attacked a teacher training college in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, and officials say at least 15 people have been killed, the BBC reports. Another 34 people were injured in the Wednesday (September 17) attack.
The gunmen exchanged fire with police outside the college before running inside. While it is not clear who was responsible for the attack, the BBC said, suspicion will fall on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009. The group which wants to set up a separate Islamic state in Africa’s most populous country has already killed 2,000 people this year and kidnapped hundreds of high school-age schoolgirls.
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The United Nations mission in Mali says five of its peacekeepers from Chad were killed and another three wounded when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device in the north of the country on Thursday (September 18).
The attack brings the number of U.N. peacekeepers killed in the country this month to 10, according to Reuters. The U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, said the blast happened between the desert towns of Aguelhok and Tessalit, in the Kidal region of the Wester African nation.
MINUSMA was deployed last year to help stabilize Mali following a three-pronged crisis which began with a Tuareg separatist uprising, followed by a military coup in the southern capital and a nine-month occupation in the north by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
The militants were chased out by a French-led intervention, but pockets of insurgents remain in Mali’s vast desert north from where they have launched attacks on the U.N. peacekeepers.
Before heading home from the U.S.-Africa Business Forum that ended Wednesday (August 6), President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Keita told an overflow crowd at CSIS Thursday (August 7) that international intervention – especially military logistics — had helped bring his country back from the brink following a 2012 military coup and rebellion in Mali’s northern deserts by nomadic Tuaregs and radical Islamist militants. But the threat to Mali, the region and the world isn’t over, Keita warned. “We’re at a strategic nexus. This is a completely lawless region,” Keita said, according to simultaneous translation of his remarks given in French.
Compounding the problem in the north — an area bigger than Texas — a flow of heavy weapons out of neighboring Libya, and Tuareg mercenaries who know how to use them, after the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
For more on Keita’s talk at CSIS, see an UPDATE to yesterday’s AROUND AFRICA blog posting.
Libya appears to be sliding into anarchy as a raging fire, touched off by a missile strike, has closed the main airport and 61 people have been reported killed in just the last 24 hours, according to the Voice of America. VoA noted the death toll stands at 150 in two weeks of clashes across the North African country.
Two rival brigades of former rebels fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport have been pounding each other’s positions with rockets, artillery fire and cannons for two week — turning the south side of Libya’s capital into a battlefield, Reuters reported. On Sunday (July 27) a rocket struck and ignited a huge jet fuel storage tank — forcing closure of the airport as several foreign embassies have been evacuating their diplomatic personnel and hundreds of foreign nationals are trying to flee the country on Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The airport fire raged out of control Monday (July 28) and Libya’s interim government sought international assistance.
The violence, which has been escalating and spreading since Libyan strongman Muammar Qadaffi was deposed and killed three years ago, has prompted the U.S. Embassy to move the diplomatic staff out of Tripoli to Tunisia. The United Nations and Turkey have moved their diplomats out as well. According to the Pentagon, all embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards, by ground vehicle on Saturday (July 26) without incident. During the exodus F-16 fighter jets and MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft (carrying an Airborne Response Force) and unspecified intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets provided security.
Nearly 100 people have been killed by ongoing clashes at the airport since early July and scores more have been killed recently in Benghazi — where government forces clashed with Islamic militants — and in Tripoli, where rival militias are fighting.
At least eight foreign governments (Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the United States) are urging their citizens to leave Libya immediately. Libya’s neighbors and Western security analysts worry that the chaos will spread beyond Libya’s borders — and create a a safe haven for terrorists close to Europe. Already, many of the heavy weapons — like man-portable rocket launchers and truck mounted machine guns — have disappeared from Qadaffi’s armories and spread across North Africa.
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The wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali was abducted in the northern Cameroonian town of Kolofata. A local religious leader, who was the town’s mayor, was also abducted in a separate attack. At least three people were killed in the raids.
Boko Haram has been increasing cross-border incursions into Cameroon in recent weeks and the West African country has deployed troops to the region bordering Nigeria. Officials said the attack on the vice prime minister’s house was the third in Cameroon since Friday (July 25). At least four soldiers were killed in previous attacks. About 22 suspected Boko Haram militants, in custody since March, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10-to-20 years in Maroua, Cameroon on Friday (July 25). It’s not known if the attacks are related to that. Militants have kidnapped foreign nationals in northern Cameroon before, including a French family and Chinese workers.
Meanwhile, at least five people were killed by a bomb in northern Nigeria and locals suspect Boko Haram is responsible. Nigerian police say the five victims were killed when a bomb was thrown at worshippers as they were leaving a church in Nigeria’s main northern city of Kano on Sunday (July 27, the BBC reported. A young female suicide bomber also wounded five police officers as she rushed towards them and blew herself up in a separate incident, they added
Boko Haram has been waging a five year terror war against the Nigerian government, Western influence and Christians in largely Muslim northeast Nigeria. The group’s name, in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria, has been translated to mean either “Western education is forbidden” or “Western education is false or fraudulent.” The concept stems from British attempts during the colonial era to force a unified education curriculum for Nigerian children that by-passed traditional Muslim schools in the rural north. Boko Haram wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria under strict sharia law.
Last week, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to form a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle Boko Haram. Efforts to step up regional co-operation gathered momentum after Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in north-eastern Nigeria. The Nigeria government of President Goodluck Jonathan — who faces re-election this year — of doing too little, too late to find and rescue the girls.
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Ebola Threat Spreads
As the death toll from the Ebola epidemic continues to rise, the New York Times reports that panicked villagers in Guinea are blocking and even attacking international aid workers, fearing that it is the doctors who spread the deadly virus.
Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others, according to a piece written by the Times’ Adam Nossiter.
Liberia, one of the affected countries, has closed most of its border crossings and communities hit by the epidemic face quarantine in an effort to halt the outbreak, deemed the deadliest by the United Nations. Screening centers are also being set up at the few major entry points that will remain open, such as the main airport, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Nigeria largest’s airline, Arik Air, has suspended all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone after a man with Ebola flew to Nigeria last week and later died.
Two US aid workers are also being treated for Ebola in Liberia, including Dr Kent Brantly, who was the medical director at one of the country’s two treatment centres run by the group, Samaritan’s Purse. The other American, Nancy Writebol, works for the Serving in Mission (SIM) as part of the same team, BBC said.
On Saturday (July 26), one of Liberia’s most prominent health officials treating Ebola patients at the country’s largest hospital, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, died after contracting the disease, according to The Independent. A Ugandan doctor working in Liberia also died earlier this month, while last week the virus infected Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s chief Ebola doctor
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Air Algerie Crash
French officials are citing poor weather as the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight over Mali in northwest Africa with 118 people on board.
Investigators at the scene of the crash in northern Mali concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, officials said, suggesting it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack. But French authorities are not ruling out other causes, including terrorism, without a full investigation, the Associated Press reported.
The MD-83 twin engine jet liner — bound for Algiers, Algeria — disappeared less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Following on the heels of the shootdown of a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine and the mysterious disappearance of another Malaysian jet bound for Beijing earlier this year the Algerian plane’s disappearance sparked concerns about a hijacking or a surface-to-air missile attack. Yhe area where the plane crashed was a conflict zone a year ago when nomadic Touregs and Islamic extremists launched a rebellion against Mali’s government and seizied half the country. French, Malina and Dutch troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali secured the crash site. The plane’s black boxes have been recovered and will be studied for clues to what caused the plane to crash.