Posts tagged ‘pirates’

FRIDAY FOTO (August 31, 2018)

Prepare to Repel Boarders.

180815-N-SM577-0033

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Scoular)

OK, this is not your standard Navy drill — anymore. But in the Age of Sail, these long, spear-like poles with sharpened points on the end were a good way to discourage enemy sailors (or pirates) from trying to force their way aboard your ship.

Boarding in the Age of Sail was more difficult and dangerous than in previous eras of open-decked sailing vessels. Defenders could seek cover in “closed quarters” in the ship’s roundhouse or foredeck, shooting through small loopholes at the exposed boarders.  If not in closed quarters, defenders sometimes resorted to the boarding pike, trying to kill or wound boarders while keeping them at a distance, and of course might use any of the weapons that the boarders themselves used, according to a Wikipedia article on naval boarding.

These sailors, assigned to the historic USS Constitution, are conducting War of 1812-era boarding pike drills during weekly heritage training in Boston, near Old Ironsides’ berth at the Charlestown, Massachusetts Navy Yard. Launched in 1797, the Constitution is the oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world still afloat.

August 31, 2018 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

AROUND AFRICA: UN Base in Mali Attacked; Boko Haram Bombing; Pirates Are Back; Covering Africa

Another Mali Attack.

Mali and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

Two United Nations peacekeepers and a civilian contractor were killed in a rocket attack Saturday (November 28) on a U.N. base in northern Mali.

The attack on the dessert base near Kidal (see map) killed two soldiers from Guinea. More than 10,000 UN peacekeepers from several countries — mostly nearby West African nations like Guinea — have been patrolling violence-wracked Mali since 2013, according to the BBC.

The UN mission in Mali — criticized at the time of its approval because there is no peace deal to support — has suffered more casualties than any other in recent years, with 56 troops killed, the BBC indicated in a November 20 video report.

Olivier Salgado, spokesman for the UN’s deployment in Mali known as MINUSMA, told Al Jazeera the attack was launched before dawn with five rockets landing inside the UN compound. Salgado said 20 other people were wounded, four seriously.

“In the past we’ve had mortar shells land outside, but this time they made it into the camp,” he said.

The armed group Ansar Dine told the AFP news agency it was responsible for the attack. Hamadou Ag Khallini, one of the group’s senior figures told AFP by phone that the attack was “in response to the violation of our lands by the enemies of Islam.”

French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, when a rebellion by heavily-armed Tuareg nomads sparked an Army coup in 2012 because the government’s poor handling of the revolt. The Tuaregs, backed by al Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists, took advantage of the chaos and swept over half the country — threatening Bamako, the capital — before the French intervened with ground troops and aircraft.

But violence has picked up again. Five UN peacekeepers were killed in July, and just over a week ago a militant assault on a luxury hotel in Bamako left more than 20 people dead. On Friday (November 27), Malian forces arrested two men in connection with the hotel attack, the Voice of America website reported..

Other West African governments are also battling insurgents. Boko Haram, the leading armed group in the region, has this year extended its attacks from Nigeria to the neighboring states of Niger, Cameroon and Chad, Al Jazeera noted.

*** *** ***

Boko Haram-Nigeria.

Nigeria (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World factbook)

The Islamic State-linked militant group Boko Haram is claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing in northern Nigeria Friday (November 27) that killed at least 22 people marching in a procession of Shi’ite pilgrims.

The blast near the village of Dakozoye, south of Kano, came just days after two female bombers blew themselves up at a local mobile telephone market in Kano, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 100 others in the city of 2.1 million residents, the Voice of America reported.

A statement posted Saturday (November 28) on Twitter referred to the Friday blast as a “martyrdom-seeking operation.”  It also vowed more violence would come as the extremist group presses its six-year campaign for an independent Islamic state, or caliphate, in northeastern Nigeria and the nearby countries of northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Followers of The Islamic Movement of Nigeria were marching from Kano to Zaria through the village of Dakasoye on Friday when the attackers struck, according to Al Jazeera. The followers were on a “symbolic trek” to Zaria, where the Islamic Movement of Nigeria’s leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky is based, to mark the 40th day of Ashura – the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hussein.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram has been labeled the world’s deadliest terrorist group, according to the New York Times.

The militant group that has tortured Nigeria and its neighbors for years, was responsible for 6,664 deaths last year, more than any other terrorist group in the world, including the Islamic State, which killed 6,073 people in 2014, according to a report released (November 18).

The report, by the Institute of Economics & Peace, said the Islamic State and Boko Haram were responsible for half of all global deaths attributed to terrorism. Last year, the deaths attributed to Boko Haram alone increased by more than 300 percent, the report said. The report also found a drastic increase in terrorist attacks last year, with the majority occurring in three countries: Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, where other militant groups besides Boko Haram operate.

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Pirates Redux.

Five Polish sailors have been abducted from a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria, according to the BBC and other news outlets.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said the men– including a captain and other three officers — were kidnapped Thursday night (November 26) from the cargo ship Szafir.

Pirates boarded the vessel as it traveled from Belgium to Nigeria, according to Polish media reports. Eleven other sailors evaded capture, apparently by locking themselves in the engine room.

Security experts classify the waters off Nigeria as some of the deadliest on earth, with pirates based in the country often targeting oil tankers, as well as hostages to ransom, Al Jazeera reported.

But the region has seen no documented attacks since February, when a crude carrier was boarded with the ship’s Greek deputy captain killed and three crew members taken hostage.

November 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Horn of Africa; Hundreds of Tunisians Kidnapped; Hunger Crisis in Mali; UPDATES with Tunisian Soldiers Killed; Somalia Fisheries Plundered; Liberia Ebola-Free

Geopolitical Powder Keg.

The Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa

According to new research, the Horn of Africa is warming and drying faster now than it has over the past 2,000 years.

That research — into ancient marine sediments — contradicts global climate models, which show the geopolitically unstable region getting wetter as emissions boost temperatures worldwide, the Scientific American reported Tuesday (October 13).

The Jessica Tierney, lead author of the new paper, published in Science Advances last Friday (October 9), says the new findings “changes our view of how greenhouse gases will affect future warming in the Horn.” Tierney, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona, said scientists — herself included — believed that rising emissions “would lead to rainier seasons.”

Violent conflicts, droughts and famines have already wracked the area of Eastern Africa roughly encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan. Climate change could be a “threat multiplier,” Tierney and her colleagues said.

Peter deMenocal, a co-author of the paper and the director of the Center for Climate and Life at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says the region is a “geographical powder keg” that has been experiencing tremendous food insecurity, water insecurity, geopolitical insecurity and now “we’re adding to that climate insecurity.”

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Mass Kidnapping.

An armed group in western Libya says it has released 30 of the approximately 300 Tunisian workers it kidnapped Tuesday (October 13), the BBC reported. The group says it is holding the rest in the town of Sabratha.

Kidnappings of Libyans or foreigners by any one of the country’s militia groups are routinely staged to extort money, encourage a prisoner exchange, or for political leverage.

Hassan Dabbashi, the head of the armed group that took the Tunisian workers, told the BBC that it wants the Tunisian government to release the Mayor of Sabratha in exchange for their captives.

The Libyan mayor was arrested in Tunis airport at the weekend after attending a workshop on local governance hosted by the United Nations Development Programme.

Tunisia and its neighbors. (Map from CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia and its neighbors.
(Map from CIA World Factbook)

Meanwhile, the Tunisian military said Monday (October 12) that Islamist militants killed two Tunisian soldiers near the Algerian border.

The soldiers were searching for a kidnapped shepherd in that western region of the country and four other soldiers were wounded during the search near Mount Sammama.

The army has been carrying out operations in western Tunisia, where dozens of security forces have died battling Islamic extremists, the VoA reported.

The military did not identify which group of extremists might have carried out Monday’s attack, which occurred just days after Tunisian civil society groups won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Associated Press reported. The Arab Spring reform movement originated in Tunisia in 2010 and 2011 and quickly spread to other nations.

*** *** ***

Insecurity, Violence … Now Hunger.

The United Nations says violence against aid groups and general insecurity have plunged the Timbuktu region of northern Mali into a hunger crisis. Tens of thousands of children are at an increasing risk of dying from malnutrition, the U.N. said, according to the Voice of America website.

A French AMX-10RCR armored reconnaissance vehicle in convoy near Gao, Mali in the drive against Islamist fighters in 2013. (Copyright French Ministry of Defense)

A French AMX-10RCR armored reconnaissance vehicle in convoy near Gao, Mali in the drive against Islamist fighters in 2013.
(Copyright French Ministry of Defense)

About one in six people in the region are suffering from acute malnutrition, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [UNOCHA] said. That includes more than 50,000 children under the age of five who are up to nine times more likely to die, because they are malnourished, the U.N. agency said.

 Conflict in Mali erupted in 2012, when a loose coalition of separatist rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants swept across the north of the country before a French-led military intervention in 2013 drove them from the main towns they had been occupying, according to VoA.

Armed groups drove the Malian army out of many posts in the north last year, and they are now fighting each other for control of land, which has uprooted tens of thousands of people and hindered relief efforts, aid agencies say.

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Somali Fishing Grounds Plundered.

Remember all the problems pirates caused around the Horn of Africa just a few years ago?

Well locals in the coastal trading town of Durduri, Somalia say there are no more fish in the sea. They blame not the pirates who brought the attention of international law enforcement to Somalia’s waters, but the foreign fishing boats that have plundered sea-life stocks, according to the Al Jazeera news site.

And if things don’t change, they say, a return to piracy will be their only way of survival.

Large foreign vessels “come at night and take everything”, one young fisherman told Al Jazeera. “With their modern machinery, there is nothing left,” he added.

His accusations are backed up by two new pieces of research, according to the website. The studies, conducted by separate Somali development agencies, suggest that international fishing vessels – particularly Iranian and Yemeni, but also European ships including Spanish vessels – are illegally exploiting the East African nation’s fish stocks on a massive scale. 

While piracy put a stop to illegal fishing, these findings suggest it was merely a hiatus. Now that international anti-piracy task forces have halted the seagoing hijackers, illegal fishing vessels have returned.

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Ebola-Free Liberia.

Health workers treating Ebola patients in Africa. (World Health Organization photo by Christine Banluta)

Health workers treating Ebola patients in Africa. (World Health Organization photo by Christine Banluta)

October 13, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 — ADVISORY

ADVISORY

Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.

Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.

 

PLEASE NOTE:

The third and final part of our blog’s coverage of the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans has been delayed.

We will be posting it before noon today (Friday, January 9, 2015)

We regret the delay.

Your 4GWAR editor

January 9, 2015 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 4-January 10, 1815) Part II

New Orleans: The Last Battle

PART II of Three Parts. Day of Battle

January 7-8, 1815

Major Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans, by Frederick Coffay Yohn, circa 1922. (Library of Congress)

Major Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans, by Frederick Coffay Yohn, circa 1922. (Library of Congress)

The night before the British assault on Jackson’s line along the Rodriguez Canal on the northern edge of Chalmette Plantation, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham orders 1,400 of his men to row across the Mississippi River to attack Jackson’s “marine battery” on the Western bank of the river.

British Colonel William Thornton is to drive off the American troops guarding the marine battery, which can spread covering fire in front of Jackson’s defenses, seize the guns by daybreak and turn them on the Americans. Once Thornton opens fire on the Americans, Pakenham will launch his attack on the eastern side of the river.

But the plan goes awry almost immediately. The narrow canal the British have been digging for nearly a week through the bayous connecting the Mississippi to Lake Borgne, collapses in places. That forces the British sailors and marines to push and drag their heavy barges through the mud. What is supposed to take two hours takes eight. By the time Thornton is supposed to push off, only a few boats have been delivered, so he sets out with just 340 soldiers, 50 sailors and 50 marines – about 1,000 less than planned.

On the Western bank, Commodore Daniel Patterson, the U.S. Navy commander sees the British preparations and sends an aide to Jackson, warning that the main British strike may come on the lightly defended west side of the river. Guarding the approach to Paterson’s battery is a thin line of some 400 Louisiana and Kentucky militia — poorly trained and even more poorly armed.
Jackson sends the aide back to Patterson and Morgan, saying they are wrong and the main attack will come against him. Jackson adds that he has no troops to spare and the colonel and commodore must make do with the men they have.

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation. (History Dept., U.S. Military Academy)

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation.
(History Dept., U.S. Military Academy)

Jackson’s approximately 4,000 troops include two understrength regular Army regiments – the 7th and 44th Infantry – Tennessee and Kentucky militia, Lafitte’s pirates, Choctaw Indians, a company of New Orleans riflemen, three small battalions of New Orleans Creole gentlemen and merchants – including one consisting of Free Men of Color – some U.S. Navy men and about 50 U.S. Marines. A mile behind them is a second, reserve line consisting of some Kentucky and Louisiana militia, about 100 Mississippi Dragoons and other small cavalry units.

At 4 a.m., Brigadier John Adair leads about 1,000 Kentucky militia into the front line to support the repulse of any British breakthroughs.
Meanwhile the British attack is falling behind schedule as a regiment that is supposed to be carrying the scaling ladders needed to breach Jackson’s mud and log rampart is slow getting into place at the head of the main attack column. Not wanting to delay any longer, Pakenham orders the attack to begin.

U.S. outposts are startled by the British rocket, signaling the attack. The Americans flee to a redoubt built just below the rampart near the Mississippi River but the British charge overwhelms them after hand-to-hand fighting. Those who can, flee over the rampart but when the British pursue, they are cut down by a storm of cannon, rifle and musket fire from the nearest American battery and the marine battery across the river. Next, a West Indian regiment carrying ladders fails to advance in the face of the American gunfire.

On the British right, the regiment assigned to carry the scaling ladders and fascines (rough bundles of brush and wood to fill in the ditch in front of the rampart) is still at the rear. The morning fog dissipates and the entire British force is not visible to the Americans.

Then the Americans open up with cannon balls, grape shot (like really big buckshot) and canister (similar to grapeshot but consisting of scrap metal and nails. The disciplined British troops march on, ironically toward the part of Jackson’s line with the biggest concentration of defenders. Hundreds of British soldiers fall dead and wounded under the withering fire from 200 yards away.
Dozens of British officers fell and soon the attack began to falter. The 44th Regiment – the ones with the ladders and fascines – finally show up with Pakenham leading them. He is soon shot in the arm and his horse shot from under him. Pakenham mounts another horse and tries to rally his faltering men.

A fanciful rendering of  Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, by painter Edward Percy Moran in 1910.

A fanciful rendering of Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, by painter Edward Percy Moran in 1910.

The British rally when a Scottish Regiment, the 93rd Highlanders, comes running to support the main attack. But more American volleys slow them down and kill their colonel. Pakenham orders the reserves committed but the bugler is shot before he can sound and waved his hat to cheer the highlanders. But another American volley of grape shot strikes Pakenham and killed his horse. The British commander dies a short time later. Two other general officers are killed or wounded. Leaderless, the British attack breaks up.

About 200 British soldiers make it to the rampart and some even climb the parapet but are quickly shot or captured. Within half an hour of the battle’s start, it is over. The field is littered with dead and wounded redcoats. Three generals, seven colonels, 75 other officers and nearly 2,000 soldiers have fallen, according to Jackson biographer Robert V. Remini.

By contrast, the Americans lose only 13 killed and about 50 wounded on the east side of the Mississippi. Losses are higher on the little-known battle on the west side of the river.

The death of Major Gen. Pakenham.

The death of Major Gen. Pakenham.

Tomorrow — New Orleans: The Ending

(Please click on all photos to enlarge the image)

January 7, 2015 at 1:45 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 7-December 13, 1814)

Enter the Pirate.

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century. (Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century.
(Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson is scrambling to find the men, weapons, ships and supplies to defend New Orleans from a pending British invasion — that may outnumber his 1,500 troops 10-to-1 — when he encounters the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre, on a New Orleans street corner in early December.

Since August, when first approached by the British to join their efforts against the United States, Lafitte has been trying to get a similar offer, first from Louisiana officials, and then, United States authorities.  After years of smuggling into New Orleans untaxed goods, mostly taken from captured Spanish ships by Lafitte and his fellow privateers, the so-called “pirate” wants to clear his record, help Jackson and the United States and — perhaps most of all — get about 80 of his men out of jail.

They were captured when the U.S. Navy attacked their hideout on Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans, in September. The incarcerated pirates include Dominque You, a pirate captain who may be Lafitte’s eldest brother (historians disagree) and also may have been an expert cannoneer in Napoleon’s Grand Army. As the reader may surmise, little is known for sure about Lafitte. He may have been born around 1780 in France or in the French colony that became Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. He may or may not have been a pirate but he is certainly a smuggler of duty-free goods. And the new state of Louisiana (entered the union in 1812) as well as the federal government are looking to put Lafitte out of business after they collect the taxes owed them.

When first approached by the  Lafittes’ attorney, Edward Livingston a prominent member of New Orleans society, who also happened to be Jackson’s private secretary and adviser, the general balked at enlisting the help of shameless bandits (Jackson called them “hellish banditti).  But the surprisingly genteel and articulate Lafitte (he spoke English, Spanish, French and Italian) made his case again to Jackson at his headquarters on Royal Street (Rue de Royale). Lafitte explained he could supply gunpowder, shot, flints and cannon – which Jackson badly needed — as well as experienced gun crews that could man batteries on land or sea. Jackson relented. The jailed pirates were released and pardoned — if they enlisted in the defense force — and Jackson made Lafitte a member of his personal staff.

As we’ve said already, the facts of Lafitte’s life are hard to nail down beyond what he did during the Battle of New Orleans. However, there was enough swashbuckling to it, that Hollywood has made two fictionalized feature films about Lafitte. Click here to see a trailer (preview) of the second one, produced by Cecil B. DeMille in 1958.

We’ll have more on Monsieur/Capitane Lafitte in coming weeks as we approach the climactic battle of the New Orleans campaign.

BritAdvanceNewOrleans

December 12

Jackson closes his deal with Lafitte just in time. On December 12, the sails of the British invasion fleet are spotted approaching Lake Borgne (see map) 30 miles or so East of New Orleans.

December 8, 2014 at 1:59 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Hunting Kony, Ebola Outbreak, Pirate Activity

Hunt for a Warlord

The Obama administration is sending military aircraft and support personnel to assist the efforts of African Union troops to hunt down renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his vicious rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

CV-22 Ospreys liked these in Bamako, Mali  in 2008, will be aiding the hunt for Josph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Bryan Purtell)

CV-22 Ospreys liked these in Bamako, Mali in 2008, will be aiding the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Bryan Purtell)

At a press briefing Monday (March 24) the Pentagon’s press secretary confirmed the Defense Department was deploying four CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as two C-130 Hercules transport planes and a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker to northern Uganda to aid the counter-LRA effort and “specifically to support the air transport requirements of the African Union Regional Task Force.”

The spokesman, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the aircraft along with 150 aircrew and support personnel will be conducting periodic deployments to Uganda to support the counter-LRA effort.  All the aircraft and personnel are based in the East African nation of Djibouti, home to the only fixed U.S. military base in Africa.

They join about 100 U.S. Special Operations troops that have been posted in Central Africa since October 2011 to advise African militaries pursuing senior LRA commanders and protecting civilians. The aircraft deployment was first reported by the Washington Post.

Kony, who is being sought by the United Nations on human rights violation charges, has been leading the LRA on a rampage of pillage, rape, murder and kidnapping across Central Africa for decades, according to the U.S. State Department. U.S. strategy in the area has been to help the governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and South Sudan as well as the African Union and the United Nations  “end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the LRA.” In addition to military advisers and air transportation, since 2010, the United States has provided $87.2 million to support food assistance, humanitarian protection and other relied activities in areas affected by the LRA.

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Ebola Outbreak

Guinea's location in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Guinea’s location in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

The death toll in Guinea from a rare Ebola virus outbreak has risen to 63, according to health officials in the West African nation. International aid workers have set up quarantine centers in the country’s south to isolate patients with the deadly and highly infectious disease, the Associated Press reported.

United Nations agencies and medical charities such as Doctors Without Borders are scrambling to help Guinea – one of the world’s poorest countries – to cope with the virus, amid fears that it could spill over borders into neighboring countries, according to Reuters. Five deaths from the suspected infection were reported in Liberia, which borders southeastern Guinea. And in neighboring Sierra Leone officials said two deaths are suspected to be linked to Ebola.

Guinea and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Guinea and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

Ebola is one of a handful of diseases so deadly and contagious that they pose a risk to national security, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bloomberg reported. The CDC lists Ebola as a Category A bioterrorism agent, along with anthrax and smallpox. The virus identified as the one causing the Guinea outbreak is known as the Zaire strain, the most common and the most deadly variety.

There is no known cure or vaccine for the hemorrhagic fever which is spread by close personal contact with people who are infected. The disease killed between 25 and 90 percent of its victims. Symptoms include internal and external bleeding, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the BBC.

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Pirate Activities Shifting

While pirate activities have dwindled off the Horn of Africa there are concerns about an increase in illegal activity in the waters of West Africa.

In its latest ‘Piracy Analysis and Warning Weekly Report,” the Office of Naval Intelligence OPINTEL report lists two kidnappings from tugboats off the coast of Nigeria, but zero incidents off the Horn of Africa, according to MarineLink.com

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

But officials in Ghana are becoming increasingly concerned about piracy off their coast. At a three-day conference on coastal and maritime surveillance in Accra last week, a Ghana Navy official said that while Ghana’s waters were spared pirate activities, there were 50 incidents of ship hijackings in West African waters in 2013.

Captain Issah Yakubu, the director of Naval Administration, said the incidents included ships being taken hostage, their cargo stolen, the crew molested, sometimes even killed. “Fortunately we (Ghana) haven’t suffered any of these insecurities, but then we are not complacent,” he told the Ghana website myjoyonline.com.

Yakubu said security chiefs in the countries around the Gulf of Guinea are also concerned about drug trafficking, citing a recent seizure of a ship carrying 400 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Ghana’s waters, the website noted.

 

 

 

March 26, 2014 at 8:48 pm 1 comment

AROUND AFRICA Update: Sectarian Violence in C.A.R., Nigeria; Piracy Report; Uganda’s Oil,

FLASHPOINTS

Updates with new information about EU contingent, planning, proposed use of surveillance drones.

Christian Vs. Muslim CAR

Central African Republic (CIA World Factbook)

Central African Republic
(CIA World Factbook)

France is sending 400 more troops to former colony Central African Republic (CAR) as a wave of sectarian violence sweeps across the Texas-sized country.

The first task of European Union troops, who are also being committed to peacekeeping in the CAR, will be to create a safe haven area in the capital city, Bangui, the commander said Monday (February 17), Reuters reported.

Major General Philippe Ponties told a Brussels news conference that the EU force also plans to use surveillance drones in the CAR — provided EU governments are prepared to supply them. In previous  United Nations peacekeeping missions to Africa, Irish and Belgian troops have used unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The U.N. last year authorized the purchase of two unmanned air vehicles for deployment with peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The surge in French troops will boost their number to about 2,000, according to the Voice of America. There are also about 5,000 troops from various nations belonging to the African Union. The United States has provided airlift support to bring some of those forces into the country. Last week, the European Union voted to send about 500 troops to bolster peacekeeping efforts in CAR, where thousands may have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled into neighboring Cameroon and Chad, creating an international refugee crisis, according to the United Nations.

French and African troops began a major operation last week to disarm local militias, known as the anti-balaka. The militias are accused of revenge attacks against Muslim neighborhoods in the capital Bangui and elsewhere around the country.

The chaos began last March when a largely Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka came down from the northern part of the CAR, overthrew the government, and began brutal attacks on the neighborhoods and villages of the majority Christian population, killing and looting as they went.

That sparked a backlash by the Christians who formed vigilante groups called anti-balaka (for anti-machete). The anti-balaka degenerated into revenge killers who looted and burned Muslim areas. Now some two thousand people are dead and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, have been driven out into the countryside or over the border.

Muslim Vs. Christian Nigeria

Nigeria's location (CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

There have been renewed attacks and mass killings in two villages and a town in northeastern Nigeria, where the government has been battling an insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

Authorities and villagers say the group was responsible for an attack Saturday (February 15) on the village of Izghe, near the border with Cameroon, that left more than 100 slain – either shot or hacked to death, according to the BBC.

Boko Haram fighters attacked the town of Konduga earlier this month and killed 51 people, Reuters reported. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered extra troops into northeast Nigeria to try and crush the insurgents, who want to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim, but Boko Haram retreated into a remote area, bordering Cameroon, from where they have mounted numerous attacks, said Reuters.

And CNN reported that militants also attacked Doron Baga, a fishing village along Lake Chad. A survivor told CNN gunmen fired indiscriminately, stole foodstuff, fish and vehicles before setting fire to the village. A Nigerian official confirmed the attack but couldn’t give details, saying it occurred in an area under the jurisdiction of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). Consisting of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, the MJTF was created in 1998 to battle weapons proliferation in the region but is now also battling the Boko Haram insurgency, CNN said.

Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden” in the north’s Hausa language, has killed hundreds of Christians and Muslims in the north since it launched its campaign of mass violence against the government in 2009. The U.S. State Department labeled Boko Haram a terrorist group last year. The continuing violence and the Army’s inability to eliminate Boko Haram as a threat poses a major political headache for Jonathan, who faces re-election next year, Reuters noted.

Nigeria is the most-populous nation in Africa and one of its biggest oil exporters.

TRANS-NATIONAL CRIME

Piracy Update

East Africa (Map courtesy of WikiSpaces.com)

East Africa (Map courtesy of WikiSpaces.com)

Piracy at sea has dropped to its lowest level in six years – largely because of a decrease in incidents off the Horn of Africa, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

IMB’s annual global piracy report says there were 264 pirate attacks reported around the world in 2013, a 40 percent drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Only 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011.

Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the IMB, says “the single biggest reason” for the drop in worldwide piracy in 2013 “is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa.” IMB says Somali pirates were deterred by a combination of factors including patrols by international navies, building anti-pirate features into vessels, the use of private armed security teams and increased stability (a relative term here) brought by Somalia’s central government.

For more than two decades, Somalia has been considered a failed state with widespread lawless activity, warring factions and extreme poverty.

While the situation is improving on the East Coast of Africa, piracy has been on the rise of the West Coast of the continent. Nineteen percent of worldwide pirate attacks last year occurred off West Africa. In 2009 there were 48 actual or attempted attacks in the waters off West Africa. That rose to 62 in 2012 and dropped slightly to 52 last year.

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

In 2013, Nigerian pirates and armed robbers committed 31 of the region’s 51 attacks, taking 49 people hostage. Worldwide, more than 300 people were taken hostage. Nigerian pirates have ranged as far south as Gabon and as far west as Ivory Coast. They were linked to five of the region’s seven vessel hijackings. Just a few days after IMB issued its report in January, a Greek-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker was reported hijacked off the coast of Angola by pirates who allegedly stole a large part of the cargo. But the Angolan Navy disputes the crew’s story.

The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has been monitoring world piracy since 1991.e

ECONOMICS/BUSINESS

Oil Deal

Uganda has reached an agreement with three international oil companies to develop the East African country’s petroleum resources.

Uganda's location (CIA World Factbook)

Uganda’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

After years of negotiations, officials in Kampala earlier this month (February 7), signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain’s Tullow Oil, France’s Total and China’s Cnoc. Gloria Sebikari, of the ministry’s petroleum department said the memorandum goes behind simply developing oil fields, the Voice of America reported. “The plan provides for use of petroleum for power generation, supply of crude oil to the refinery to be developed in Uganda, and then export of crude oil to an export pipeline or any other viable option to be developed by the oil companies,” Sebikari said, according to VoA.

Uganda, East Africa’s third-largest economy, discovered hydrocarbon deposits in the western part of the country in 2006. But commercial production has been delayed and is not expected to start until 2016 at the earliest. Analysts blame the delay on negotiations over the planned refinery, according to Reuters.

Uganda has agreed to build a pipeline that will run to neighboring Kenya’s planned Indian Ocean port at Lamu, which is expected to become an export terminal for crude oil from Uganda, Kenya and other regional states, Reuters said.

Uganda has sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-largest oil reserves, behind South Sudan, Angola and Nigeria with an estimated 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil, according to Oilprice.com. The oil and energy news website said East Africa has been identified as the next big oil and gas production area with more than four countries – including Kenya and Ethiopia – announcing oil and gas finds.

February 17, 2014 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Hostages Released, Somali Drone Strike; Kenya Mall Attack Arrests, Another Pirate Attack

(Click on images to enlarge)

Hostages in Niger Freed

Map of Niger (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Niger
(CIA World Factbook)

French hostages abducted from a uranium mine in Niger in 2010 have been released, French President Francois Hollande announced today (October 29). He said France’s foreign and defence ministers have left for Niger’s capital, Niamey, and the hostages would return home as soon as possible, according to the BBC.

The four men were seized in September 2010 in raids targeting two French firms operating a uranium mine near Arlit, northern Niger. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group said it was responsible for the kidnappings.

Drone Targets al Shabab?

A U.S. missile strike destroyed a car in Somalia Monday (October 28) believed to be carrying a top leader of the al Shabab Islamist militant group, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported.

The attack was believed to be launched from an unmanned aircraft, or drone, but that has not been officialy confirmed. If a drone strike in southern Somalia is confirmed, it will further illustrate the increasing importance placed by estern powers on counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, the AP noted. Among the dead in the attack was al Shabab’s top bombmaker, Ibrahim Ali, one of the group’s members told the AP.

U.S. Air Force photo via Wikipedia

U.S. Air Force photo via Wikipedia

Three weeks ago, U.S. Navy SEALS launched an unsuccessful raid at Baraawe on the Somali coast that targeted a Kenyan of Somali origin, known as Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, who went by the name “Ikrimah.” He was identified as the main planner of al-Shabab attack on Kenya’s parliament building and the United Nations’

The New York Times noted that the Obama administration has been reluctant to launch drone strikes in Somalia with the regularity it has in Pakistan and Yemen. The Times said that may be in part over whether the U.S. could legally target al Shabaab, which has not tried to attack on American soil. There are also concerns that drone strikes might only incite al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab, transforming the group from a regional organization aimed at driving Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union troops out of Somalia into one with an agenda as violent and international as Al Qaeda’s.

Arrests in Nairobi Mall Looting

Two Kenyan soldiers have been fired – and arrested – for stealing cell phones and other items during last month’s deadly siege at an upscale mall in Nairobi, the Voice of America reported today (Oct. 29).

Nairobi Westgate Mall before the attack.  (Photo via wikpedia)

Nairobi Westgate Mall before the attack.
(Photo via wikpedia)

More than 60 people were killed during the four-day siege at the Westgate shopping center.

Security camera footage showed several soldiers taking things from various shop counters and walking away from stores carrying plastic bags during four-day ordeal.

At first the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the mall’s shops while battling Islamist militants. But after the carnage was over, shopkeepers claimed stores had been looted, including break-ins at automatic teller machines and banks themselves in the mall. Earlier, the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the Westgate shopping center as they battled Islamist militants.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the raid, saying it was retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention into Somalia two years ago. Kenya sent troops to Somalia to help battle al-Shabab, which has been fighting to turn Somalia into a strict Islamist state.

West African Pirates

The new Tom Hanks film, “Captain Phillips” illustrates how dangerous the waters off the coast of East Africa were just a few years ago.

But now the seafarers’ danger zone is on the other side of the continent, in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Christian Science Monitor relates.

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

Gulf of Guinea via Wikipedia

While Somalia’s pirates tend to engage in protracted hostage-takings that could stretch for months or even years, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea prefer smash-and-grab operations to steal cargo, according to the Monitor, adding “They especially favor refined oil products like gasoline and diesel that can be sold elsewhere.”

In the latest incident, two American merchant seamen – the captain and chief engineer of the C-Retriever – a 222-foot oil platform supply vessel, were seized by pirates in the waters off Nigeria, where pirate incidents have boomed lately.

The merchant sailors’ whereabouts are currently unknown.

The C-Retriever is owned by the company Edison Chouest Offshore in Louisiana. The ship and 11 other members of the crew were released, the Associated Press reported.

October 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm 1 comment

AFRICA: Will Pentagon Belt Tightening Squeeze Out AFRICOM?

Considering COCOM Consolidation

AFRICOM's emblem

AFRICOM’s emblem

At the Aspen Security Forum in mid-July, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the recently retired head of U.S. Africa Command said he thought most countries in Africa had a more positive view of the regional command now than when it was created in 2007.

Since then, the military and civilian workers of AFRICOM “have done so much to diminish the fears and anxieties of many African countries,” Ham told your 4GWAR editor during a question & answer session at the four-day conference in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “We don’t go anywhere without the consent of the host nation government” and the consent of the U.S. ambassador to that nation, he added.

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 seeking to grab all the oil, gold or other natural resources it could. Others saw it as an attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

As an example of the hostility to the concept of U.S. troops in Africa, only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, which still remains in Stuttgart, Germany. Many other African nations opposed having a U.S. military presence anywhere on the continent.

Gen. Carter F. Ham (ret.)  (AFRICOM photo via Wikipedia)

Gen. Carter F. Ham (ret.)
(AFRICOM photo via Wikipedia)

But Ham, who was AFRICOM’s second commander, said “many nations – not all – have found it to be in their best interests to have a military-to-military relationship with the U.S. through Africa Command.”

So we were a little surprised when reports began surfacing that AFRICOM might be folded into European Command or one of the other six regional combatant commands as a money-saving venture driven by the budget constraints of sequestration.

Defense News, a Gannett publication, reported August 12 that the Pentagon was considering “a major overhaul” of the commands that could include “dissolving Africa Command” and splitting its responsibilities between European Command, which is also headquartered in Stuttgart, and Central Command, based at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. AFRICOM is responsible for U.S. security, humanitarian and diplomatic operations in all of Africa’s 54 countries, except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.

As it says on its website, AFRICOM has four main roles in Africa: to deter and defeat transnational threats; prevent future conflicts; support humanitarian and disaster relief and protect U.S. security interests. AFRICOM has a very small permanent presence in Africa – a former Foreign Legion base in Djibouti where about 2,000 personnel are based and an airbase in Niger with a little over 100 personnel to support surveillance drones flying over northwest Africa where an affiliate of the al Qaeda terrorist network has been active. The bulk of AFRICOM’s small personnel force remains in Europe.

All of the services conduct training exercises with African militaries like Africa Lion and Flintlock. Other missions offer naval and police training as well as medical clinics, emergency response training and small construction projects.

U.S. and African troops at opening ceremonies for Flintlock 09 exercise in Bamako, Mali in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Victoria Meyer)

U.S. and African troops at opening ceremonies for Flintlock 09 exercise in Bamako, Mali.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Victoria Meyer)

“We didn’t really see ourselves as a fighting command,” Ham said at the Aspen event … until Libya happened.

AFRICOM found itself leading air and intelligence operations during the early days of the United Nations-sanctioned intervention in Libya’s revolt-turned civil war. AFRICOM also supplied military transport and air refueling assistance to French and African forces intervening earlier this year in the Islamist revolt in Mali. Later, AFRICOM reached an agreement with Niger to base unarmed surveillance drones there. AFRICOM has also played a role in battling pirates off the east and west coasts of Africa. And U.S. special operations forces conducted a hostage rescue mission in Somalia and provided assistance to African militaries hunting for renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

That increasingly military role may have undercut AFRICOM’s original, largely non-miltary role in the eyes of some Africans, according to the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

But summing in up his answer in Aspen to 4GWAR’s query about whether Africa was now more accepting of AFRICOM, Ham said: “If the United States were to say ‘We’re interested in relocating the headquarters to the African continent. Would you be interested in hosting [it]?’ I think there are a number of nations that would say ‘Yes.’”

AFRICOM civil affairs personnel conduct numerous health clinics with local medicos like this one in Chebelley, Djibouti (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Christopher Ruano)

AFRICOM civil affairs personnel conduct numerous health clinics with local medicos like this one in Chebelley, Djibouti (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Christopher Ruano)

September 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm 3 comments

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