Monthly Archives: December 2013

Detainee Transfers and Another Terrorist Designation

Late yesterday, the US Department of Defense announced the transfer of two detainees held at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Sudan.  According to the Department of Defense, the detainees, identified as Noor Uthman Muhammed and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, were transferred in coordination with “the Government of Sudan regarding appropriate security measures and to ensure that these transfers are consistent with our humane treatment policy.”  The press release also included the following information regarding Muhammed and Idris:

“On Feb. 18, 2011, Muhammed pleaded guilty in a military commission to offenses under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, and was sentenced to 14 years confinement. In exchange for his guilty plea and Muhammed’s cooperation with prosecutors, the Convening Authority for Military Commissions agreed through a pre-trial agreement to suspend all confinement in excess of 34 months. Following the completion of the unsuspended portion of his sentence as of Dec. 3, 2013, the United States Government has repatriated Muhammed to Sudan.

“Idris was released from Guantanamo in accordance with a court order issued on Oct. 4, 2013, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Idris has been designated for transfer since 2009 by unanimous consent among all six departments and agencies on the Guantanamo Review Task Force. As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the task force conducted a comprehensive review of Idris’s case, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, in making that designation. In accordance with congressionally mandated reporting requirements, the administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these individuals.”

In addition, the US Department of State announced yesterday that it had designated the al-Mulathamun Battalion as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  The announcement described the entity as:

“Originally part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the al-Mulathamun Battalion became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split from AQIM. In Belmokhtar’s first public statement after the split he threatened to fight against Western interests and announced the creation of the sub-battalion, ‘Those Who Sign in Blood,’ reportedly made up of the organization’s best fighters. Soon after, the sub-battalion claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack against a gas facility near In-Amenas, Algeria. The four-day siege resulted in the death of at least 38 civilians, including three United States citizens. Seven other Americans escaped the attack.

“In May 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion cooperated with the E.O. 13224-designated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in twin suicide bombings in Niger, which killed at least 20 people. In August 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion and MUJAO announced that the two organizations would merge under the name ‘al-Murabitoun.’ The newly formed al-Murabitoun extremist group constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel.”

The Department of State announcement added that given this history, both “Those Who Sign in Blood” and “al-Murabitoun” were treated as aliases for the purposes of the FTO designation, and that the same sanctions would be applied to activities conducted under these names.  Sanctions against FTOs include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with the designated FTO and the freezing of assets.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

The designation of the al-Mulathamun Battalion as an FTO represents a shift in the US government perception and response to the group and AQIM broadly.  Previously, official correspondence had described their activities as being largely criminal in nature, focusing more on activities like hostage taking for ransom than anti-government terrorism.  Belmokhtar had, for instance, gained the moniker “Mr. Marlboro” as a result of his cigarette smuggling, seen as hardly the focus of a hardened terrorist.  The US now describes up and coming AQIM as one of the most dangerous of Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates and has offered rewards for the capture of individuals like Belmokhtar.

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US Sends Task Force to South Sudan as Violence Spreads

The United States has sent elements of the East Africa Response Force to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and is working to evacuate non-essential embassy personnel, US nationals, and others from the country.  Violence has spread since the government reported Monday that it had “quashed” an alleged coup attempt.  President Salva Kiir made the announcement on national television in full military dress instead of his normal civilian attire.  Martial law was subsequently declared and the UN estimates that some five hundred people have been killed since the the fighting started.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.

President Kiir said today that he is willing to hold talks with former Vice President Riek Machar, who he says is behind the coup attempt.  Riek Machar, a member of the country’s Nuer ethnic group, was also a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership before South Sudan became an indepedent nation in 2011 and the SPLM became the country’s dominant political party.  Machar has since become an opposition political figure, claiming to represent the Nuer in a government said to be dominated by the country’s main ethnic group, the Dinka.  President Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group and there are concerns that the violence could expand into outright inter-ethnic conflict.  The UN, which maintains a peacekeeping mission in the country, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), has called on all parties to refrain from actions that could incite ethnic tensions.

However, the violence currently appears to be spreading, with reports of clashes occurring outside the capital and its immediate surroundings.  This is what led the US Department of State to first recommend that US citizens evacuate the country as soon as possible and subsequently provide assistance for them in doing so.  Today, the Department of State reported that US Air Force C-130s and a private charter aircraft had departed the country carrying evacuees, and added that it would continue to work to help arrange transportation for those wishing to leave. Other countries are conducting similar efforts to evacuate their nationals and others wishing to leave.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In addition, the US deployed elements of the relatively new East Africa Response Force (EARF), a joint task force co-located with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti, to provide additional physical security for diplomatic facilities.  Currently, the core element of the EARF is the US Army’s 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment.  The battalion is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.  In 2012, it was announced that 2/1st Infantry would be aligned with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) as part of a new initiative to align US-based brigade combat teams on a rotating basis with geographic component commands.  2/1st Infantry was the first brigade combat team to be so aligned and 1-63d Armor was the first unit from the brigade to deploy in support of this new mission.  The EARF conducted a readiness exercise in November, simulating response to a contingency at an embassy in the region.  Response to such a scenario has become a major focus of regional planning following the events at the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012.

Correction (12/23/13): By December 14th, 1-63d Armor had in fact conducted a relief in place transfer of authority with 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, also part of 2/1st Infantry.  It was soldiers from 1-18th Infantry that formed the core of the EARF when elements were deployed to South Sudan.

More Details About US Supported Efforts in CAR

According to the Department of Defense, between December 12th and December 16th, a total of eight C-17 sorties have been flown between Burundi and Central African Republic as part of efforts to bolster the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) there.  A flight yesterday carried thirty-nine personnel, a 1.5-ton truck, an armored personnel carrier, and six pallets of equipment totaling forty-two tons.  As of the 15th, the US had moved four hundred and thirty-two passengers, twenty-five pallets of equipment, and thirteen Burundian military vehicle in total.

Burundian WZ551 armored personnel carriers and other vehicles wait to be loaded onto a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III on December 10.

Burundian WZ551 armored personnel carriers and other vehicles wait to be loaded onto a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III on December 10 for deployment to CAR.

Another flight was to be flown yesterday and two more were expected to be flown today, which would involve the movement of an additional one hundred and sixty-five personnel.  The initial plan, announced on the 9th, has been to support the deployment of a full battalion of Burundian peacekeepers to CAR, totaling approximately eight hundred and fifty personnel, along with their supporting equipment.  The US would likely remain able and willing to respond to additional requests for support after the airlift of Burundian forces is complete.

On December 10th, President Barack Obama also delegated the Secretary of State to direct the drawdown of up to $60 million in defense articles from the stocks of the Department of Defense (DoD) and defense services of the DOD to provide assistance to countries and entities engaged in international peacekeeping efforts in CAR.  These countries and entities included France, the African Union, the Republic of the Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda.  In addition, the memorandum noted that such assistance could also be extended to other countries not named that contribute forces to MISCA, allowing such support to be provided to African nations who may join the effort at a later date.  The US State Department had previously announced $40 million in support for MISCA and the French intervention, Operation Sangaris.

France has also been pushing for additional European Union support, suggesting yesterday that the group establish a permanent fund to support such interventions.  The proposal is no doubt in part influenced by any of a number of programs the US has in place, such as the Global Peace Operations Initiative.  Poland, Britain, Germany, Spain, and Belgium have reportedly provided various forms for support for the French effort, but only France has deployed troops to the troubled country.  The UK, for instance, helped to rapidly deploy French forces from Europe to CAR during the initial stages of the intervention.  Operation Sangaris began on the 6th, the day after the UN Security Council approved a UN mandate for MISCA and French forces in CAR.  Violence and instability following a rebel incursion into the capital that overthrew the government in March has led the country closer and closer to a humanitarian crisis.  A senior official with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned yesterday of an impending food crisis, the latest indicator of the dire situation there.

CAR’s Djotodia Says He’s in Talks with Militias

Current President of Central African Republic Michel Djotodia said yesterday that contacts had been established with so-called anti-balaka groups opposed to his rule.  According to Djotodia, the anti-balaka groups had specifically raised concerns about their safety should they agree to stop fighting, and also sought an official amnesty and their inclusion in the government.  He also added that he saw “no harm” in such outreach and would be looking to potentially reach out to other groups.  It was unclear who this might refer to in a country that has seen the emergence of numerous armed groupings since Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize in March.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

The concerns about safety reportedly raised by the anti-balaka contacts is entirely reasonable given that Djotodia has not appeared to have significant control over the fighters that thrust him into power.  Former members of the Seleka rebel movement, which Djotodia officially disbanded following declaring himself the country’s new president, remain active, especially in the suburbs of the capital Bangui.  I have disputed whether Djotodia has publicly admitted his lack of control over these fighters and anti-balaka militiamen may be understandably wary of any guarantees given to them as part of any agreement with Djotodia’s government.  A reported incident yesterday, where militiamen, possibly Djotodia’s personal bodyguard, surrounded French President Francois Hollande’s plane at the airport in Bangui speaks to the general uncertainty and insecurity in the country at present.

France launched an intervention into the country, Operation Sangaris, following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2127 on December 5th.  This gave a UN mandate to the French operation, as well as the existing African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  The African Union has since approved the expansion of MISCA to a total of six thousand personnel, and the United States has been involved in helping to rapidly deploy African peacekeeping forces into the country.

Also, in other news today, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir appeared on national television in military uniform to say that his government had defeated a coup attempt.  South Sudan, the newest independent country in the world following its break from Sudan in 2011, has been wracked by border disputes with Sudan and infighting between the members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the insurgent group that now forms the largest political party in the country’s government.  Kiir said that coup had been led by individuals loyal to Riek Machar, a former deputy to Kiir and leadership figure in the SPLM.  Machar now leads a splinter faction of the SPLM, which focuses on the representation of the Nuer ethnic group.  The Nuer are the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan, behind the Dinka.  Kiir is a member of the Dinka group and reports suggest there have been accusations of the domination of the country’s government by that group.

DRC and M23 Sign Deal in Kenya

While the focus here at Codebook: Africa has been on developments in CAR, it is important to note that authorities from the Democratic Republic of Congo and representatives of the M23 rebel group signed a deal formally ending hostilities in Kenya on Thursday.  A deal brokered by Uganda had stalled out, in no small part due to the issues of the final status of former rebels and reported Ugandan support for the group.  Many M23 rebels, including its military chief Sultani Makenga, had fled into Uganda, and Uganda had said it had no intention of repatriating them to the DRC without their consent.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict with the M23 rebel group.  The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention in the region and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda, both accused of providing support to M23.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict with the M23 rebel group. The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention in the region and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda, both accused of providing support to M23.

Given these issues it is no wonder that a final agreement was brokered by a different third party, one that the DRC would believe was actually acting as a neutral facilitator.  However, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was reportedly at the event.  The arrangement reached in Kenya saw DRC and M23 representatives sign separate declarations.  The DRC pledged to help demobilize and reintegrate former M23 members back into society, while the M23 representatives reiterated the end of the movement as an armed group.  No amnesty for those believed to be responsible for war crimes was included.  DRC President Joseph Kabila was said to have been hailed by other African leaders present at the ceremony for signing the DRC’s document.  The US and UN also responded positively to the deal.

As always it remains to be seen how this new agreement will play out.  As previously noted here and elsewhere, M23 was only the latest iteration of Tutsi rebels in the region.  There is nothing to say that grievances, real or imagined, of government inattention or outright hostility to the Tutsi minority in eastern DRC might not again provoke a return to open conflict.  With the status of former M23 members in Uganda remaining uncertain, there is the possibility that members of the group could return to set up a new armed movement.

In addition, M23 was only one of a myriad of armed groups in DRC, including a large number of localized and independent “Mai Mai” militias, said to act in self-defense against the other more formalized movements.  The UN has already looked to launching offensives against some of these groups like it did against M23.  The activities of the UN’s intervention brigade in DRC, formed this year, were said to have been instrumental in the rapid collapse of M23 at the beginning of last month.  This past week, the brigade launched a new offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group operating in DRC.  Whether this is really the beginning of a new chapter for the DRC, its clear that there is a long way left to go.

Violence Continues in CAR as International Efforts Expand

Aid workers in CAR have reported that more than five hundred people have been killed in CAR since last week in fighting between the mostly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and Christian anti-balaka militias, said to be loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize.  Current President and former leader of the Seleka group has Michel Djotodia has repeatedly denied reports suggesting a rapid downward spiral toward sectarian strife and possible genocide, saying in the past said that the violence was an expression of “revenge” by the people for abuses by the previous leadership.  More recently he continued to blame the former regime for the violence, saying effectively that the citizenry of CAR was either with him or against him.

Burundian National Defense Forces and the US Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 worked together in Burundi on December 10 as they prepared to embark to the CAR to join the MISCA mission.

Burundian National Defense Forces and the US Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 worked together in Burundi on December 10 as they prepared to embark to the CAR to join the MISCA mission.

The violence has showed no signs of stopping.  The UN said earlier in the week that it estimated four hundred people had been killed or injured in fighting since the previous Thursday, that almost a half a million people had been displaced since the overthrow of Bozize in March, and that some 2.3 million people, half of the country’s population, were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.  These were among the factors that prompted the decision by the UN Security Council on December 5th to give a UN mandate to the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and authorize a French intervention in the country.  The African Union had also said it would be looking to increase the size of MISCA, and today officially authorized an increase in the size of the force to a total of 6,000 personnel.  Despite the immediate efforts, the situation remains dangerous.  Two French soldiers were killed on the 10th in fighting with armed groups in CAR.

The US and United Kingdom have both been working to rapidly move French and African forces into CAR.  The Royal Air Force has been flying missions from France to CAR, while the US has deployed personnel to Uganda, Burundi, and CAR to coordinate efforts to help deploy African peacekeepers into the country.  The first US mission from Burundi to CAR was reportedly flown yesterday.  US Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Africa are in Burundi acting as a logistics support element for the operation there.  They had already been deployed in Burundi as part of an existing effort to train logistics companies for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It remains unknown at this time who is the force provider for the command element in Uganda or the security element in CAR.

US Airlift Into CAR Begins

The first US Air Force C-17 sortie from Burundi to the Central African Republic was conducted today, reportedly delivering fifty-four personnel, six cargo pallets, and a forklift to the troubled country.  The current goal of the operation is for a detachment of two US C-17 aircraft to eventually fly a full Burundian light infantry battalion into the country.  The battalion consists of eight hundred and fifty personnel and associated equipment.

French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Base Aerieene 125, Istres, France on 20 January 2013, as they prepare to depart for Mali as part of France's Operation Serval

French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Base Aerieene 125, Istres, France on 20 January 2013, as they prepare to depart for Mali as part of France’s Operation Serval.

However, it is possible that the US will be called upon to conduct further missions in support of France’s Operation Sangaris and the African-led  International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  The US had provided similar support to France’s Operation Serval in Mali, which began in January, and remained willing to provide such support as late as August as part of Operation Juniper Micron.  In addition, an update to one of the Sources Sought Synopses mentioned on Tuesday was updated today to describe a proposed “…period of performance will be between the months on or about 1 February 2014 thru 2 February 2015,” further reinforcing the likelihood that the US is look at the possibility of providing support for a protracted period of the time.

In addition, the Armed Forces Press Service said yesterday that the US military has a command and support team in Uganda and a logistics element in Burundi to support this effort, in addition to the element inside CAR already identified in the update to yesterday’s post.  According to the official news item, the element in CAR is primarily to provide on the ground security.  The force providers or nickname for the operation were not mentioned, but sources at AFRICOM have told Codebook: Africa that there is a nickname, but that it may not yet be releasable.

In addition to the US airlift efforts, the United Kingdom also flew a C-17 sortie to CAR yesterday, to deliver equipment to French forces.  The C-17 from the Royal Air Force’s 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton coordinated delivery of vehicles and supplies with French military personnel.  This is the second of three planned sorties by the RAF in support of Operation Sangaris, the first of which was conducted on December 6th after the UK announced its intention to provide the support.  That mission saw an RAF C-17 collect armored personnel carriers from the French Air Force base at Istres-Le Tubé near Marseilles, which has been a major hub for French movements into Africa in the past year.  The French have themselves have used both Cameroon and Gabon as staging areas for the deployment of forces, and recently deployed aircraft to Chad to support the effort in CAR.