Monthly Archives: February 2014

France Opposes Central African Republic Partition

French President Francois Hollande said today that the primary mission for his country’s forces in Central African Republic is to prevent a de facto partition there. President Hollande made the remarks to French troops in CAR’s capital Bangui.  He is on his second visit to the embattled country in three months.  France has some two thousand personnel in the country as part of Operation Sangaris, an intervention that began last December.

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

The visit comes just days after France’s parliament voted to extend the duration of the operation.  Parliamentarians voted for the extension despite some criticizing President Hollande for underestimating the situation there. Two French soldiers have been killed as international peacekeepers try to disarm militias and stem the violence.

CAR has been locked in crisis since nominally Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March. Their leader, Michel Djotodia formally disbanded the group after being named Interim President, but former rebels continued to operate with virtual impunity.

Violence has exploded, however, following Djotodia’s resignation and subsequent departure into exile in January. International forces, operating in CAR under a UN mandate, have been unable to prevent a string of violent reprisals against Muslim communities, especially in Bangui. Muslims have been fleeing the capital in recent weeks in the face of attacks from nominally Christian self-defense groups, collectively referred to as anti-balaka, which sprang up in response to the activities of ex-Seleka rebels.

This has in turn given rise to fears of a de facto partition of the country between the nominally Christian western portion and the nominally Muslim eastern portion.  Aid agencies have also been reportedly faced with the dilemma about whether to assist in the movement of communities away from the violence. While this might save groups from massacres at the hands of various localized armed groups, it could also be in service of what amounts to “ethnic cleansing” and reinforce fears of a split in the country. The duty to protect civilians and fears about essentially assisting in atrocities have proven continually to be difficult to balance in peacekeeping operations, including notably during UN efforts in Bosnia in the 1990s.

CAR’s new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has basically declared war on militias, but with accusations of complicity on the part of government security forces and the limited resources of international forces currently, there has been little movement to curtail their activities. Currently there are six thousand African peacekeepers in the country, in addition to the French forces there. The European Union has pledged additional forces, and it is hoped that the international presence in CAR will expand soon to a total of some nine-thousand personnel.

A good example of the difficulties that peacekeepers have faced came earlier this week when the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) reported the arrest of Patrick Edouard Ngaissona.  Ngaissona styles himself a “coordinator” of anti-balaka groups. However, MISCA retracted this statement yesterday, saying instead that they had actually captured a more minor anti-balaka member of the same name.  President Hollande is to meet with Interim President Samba-Panza, no doubt to discuss the issue of militias among other problems that the country faces.

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French Operation in Central African Republic May Be Extended

French parliamentarians in the country’s lower legislative house voted today to extend France’s intervention in Central African Republic.  As per French law, a vote must be held on military campaigns lasting more than four months. France currently has approximately two thousand personnel in CAR, where there are also some six thousand African peacekeepers.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

French lawmakers criticized President Francois Hollande over the intervention, despite voting to continue it.  President Hollande had promised that the intervention, codenamed Operation Sangaris, would only last six months when it began last December. The situation CAR means that the intervention is likely to continue beyond that time frame.  France has even begun shifting forces around in Africa and elsewhere in order to bolster its operation in the country.

Even these additional reinforcements have not been enough to stem rising inter-communal violence in the country. The violence stems from the violent ouster of the country’s President, Francois Bozize, last March.  Nominally Muslim Seleka rebels deposed Bozize and their leader, Michel Djotodia subsequently took power as the country’s Interim President.  Despite attempts to curtail the rebels, they operated with virtual impunity in many parts of the country, including the capital, Bangui. In response, nominally Christian communities who felt targeted by violence and criminality, formed self-defense militias, collectively referred to as anti-balaka.

Djotodia resigned his post in January and fled into exile. Anti-balaka militias have since been accused of atrocities themselves, as they conduct reprisals against former rebels and those they link to them. Despite similar efforts to disarm these militias, the violence has continued, leading to events like a mass exodus of Muslims from the capital. French and African peacekeepers have been overwhelmed trying to provide basic law and order, and France has repeatedly called on European allies and the UN to deploy additional personnel.

Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon did put forward a six-point plan that included provisions for additional troops and police. French and African peacekeepers in CAR are currently operating under a UN mandate. However, it will take time for any additional forces to arrive and it is time that CAR might not have. The UN estimates that over two million people in CAR, amounting to almost half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.  More than seven hundred thousand have been displaced internally and almost three hundred thousand have fled into neighboring countries. There is a fear that the violence could spillover, especially into Cameroon. The crisis has also likely resulted in the deaths of thousands, but the instability has prevented any sort of accurate, independent assessment.

Boko Haram Attacks on the Rise

Gunmen believed to be from the militant group Boko Haram reportedly killed three in the village of Izghe in Nigeria’s Borno state, and burned the village to the ground. This comes only a week after an attack on the village, again believed to have been perpetrated by Boko Haram militants, left over a hundred dead and numerous structures demolished.  The attack on Izghe is also the second in as many months where Boko Haram militants have been accused of completely wiping out a village in Borno state.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012. One can clearly see that the country’s northeast has been at the center of the violence.

Borno state and the northeast of Nigeria broadly have seen the bulk of the fighting with the Islamist Boko Haram and their splinter factions after the group turned to violence in 2009. Officials in Borno state have accused the country’s central government of failing to treat the insurgency as a serious threat. President Goodluck Jonathan did declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states last year, which was followed by a surge of violence as the country’s security forces attempted to deal a decisive blow to Islamist fighters.

However, the campaign appears to have stalled out. In January, President Jonathan reshuffled the country’s defense leadership. The sacking of the Chief of the Defense Staff and numerous service chiefs was seen as being linked to the failure to stem the Boko Haram violence. It was also announced that Nigerian would establish a Nigerian Army Special Operations Command (NASOC), which would have countering internal threats like Boko Haram among its missions. The US is said to be helping with this effort and has a history of cooperation with the country’s military. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that the US remains “a committed partner of the Government of Nigeria” in the face of the recent violence.

Little has come of this so far. Last week, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau made the bold threat that his group was planning to attack oil interests and leadership figures, both official and in communities, who opposed his demands. The country’s oil interests are located in the Niger River Delta region, effectively at the opposite end of the country from Boko Haram’s current stronghold.

Izghe is also near the border with Cameroon, further evidence that the problem may be affecting Nigeria’s neighbors. Cameroon has found itself wedged between a number of crises, without necessarily having the resources to tackle the spillover. Security forces in Cameroon have been working to stop arms trafficking that may be supporting the Nigerian insurgency. The porous border remains a problem, however, and the Nigerian government announced yesterday that it was sealing its border with Cameroon to prevent fighters from fleeing there. It remains to be seen if either country has the resources necessary to enforce this closure.

Flintlock 2014 Begins in Niger

This year’s iteration of the annual Flintlock special operations exercise began yesterday in Niger.  The annual exercise, directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sponsored by US Africa Command, and run by Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara, is an important component of US counter-terrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region.  This region stretches the length of the continent, dividing North Africa from sub-Saharan Africa.

Malian soldiers conduct fast rope operations out of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter from the US Army's 160th  Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne) in Bamako, Mali on 18 May 2010 as part of Flintlock 2010.

Malian soldiers conduct fast rope operations out of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter from the US Army’s 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne) in Bamako, Mali on 18 May 2010 as part of Flintlock 2010.

Though the participants have not yet been named, reports indicate that one thousand personnel from eighteen countries will take part.  This is four more than took part in last year’s exercise, hosted by Mauritania.

That the exercise this year is being held in Niger is unsurprising.  The country borders Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Nigeria, all of which are currently battling major terrorist groups. As a result Niger has recently become a major partner with the US and French militaries, both of whom are conducting drone operations from a base adjacent to the airport in the capital Niamey.  This year’s Flintlock is another indicator of increasing concerns about terrorist groups in the region.

You can read more about this in an article I wrote today for War is Boring.

More Ceasefire Violations in South Sudan

South Sudanese forces and rebels clashed in Upper Nile state yesterday, with both sides claiming control of the state capital Malakal today.  The fighting was said to be the most significant violation of a ceasefire agreement, signed by government and rebel representatives in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, since that agreement came into force at the end of January.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

The fighting comes as the delegations in Addis Ababa attempt to iron out the second phase of a peace process.  This has been complicated by numerous factors, including legal proceedings against some members of the opposition movement, opposition leader Riek Machar’s announcement of open resistance to the government, and an intervention by Ugandan troops on behalf of the South Sudanese government.

The matter of Ugandan troops has been particularly troublesome for the peace process.  The peace talks in Addis Ababa are sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), of which Uganda is a member.  South Sudan is also Uganda’s primary export market.  Other IGAD members, as well as international actors like the United States, have called on Ugandan forces to withdraw from the conflict.  However, it is possible to suggest that the intervention may have been key in stabilizing the situation and pushing the rebel delegation to negotiate.  Given the current status of the ceasefire agreement, that may be a moot point.

Whatever the case, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa announced yesterday that there would be a phased withdrawal of Ugandan forces, starting in April, ahead of the deployment of an African-led peacekeeping force to the country. However, the exact timeline for the deployment of that force, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), may be delayed.  ACIRC is currently in its formative stages.  When it is fully operational, ACIRC is to provide the African Union with a force capable of rapidly responding to crises across the continent.

Perhaps more worrisome is that the fighting in Malakal, which took place near a facility operated by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), reportedly touched off a riot inside the facility between internally displaced persons of different ethnic groups.  Since the conflict began last December, tens of thousands of those fleeing the violence have sought shelter in and around UNMISS facilities.  These facilities have subsequently been the target of violence and suspicion.

The UN estimates that over seven hundred thousands individuals are displaced internally and that over one hundred and fifty thousand have fled to neighboring countries.  A significant portion of the population is also in need of humanitarian assistance.  The UN’s Crisis Response Plan is only 18.5 percent funded, however.  The UN continues to appeal for greater international engagement.

Updates for America’s Codebook: Africa May Slow

I just want to quickly let readers know that posting and other updates for America’s Codebook: Africa has indeed slowed down as of late.  However, I have definitely not forgotten about this project.  I continue to stay informed about what is happening on the continent and will make sure to post updates about significant activities.

These updates will likely be more infrequent than when I started this project.  The biggest reason for the slowdown has been my increased work as a regular contributor to War is Boring.  This includes a recent piece talking about Africa, which I co-wrote with Lieutenant Colonel Jason Nicholson, who is currently the Division Chief, East Africa Regional Division, Strategy, Plans, and Policy Directorate at US Africa Command.  I would recommend readers of this blog who haven’t otherwise seen that piece, entitled “Remember, Africa Was the Original Front in the War on Terror”, check it out.

I hope that readers will continue to find the information contained here both useful and timely!

Central African Republic’s Violence Proving Difficult to Quell

It was reported today that attempts to disarm nominally Christian militias in Central African Republic, broadly referred to as anti-balaka, had been met with resistance.  Unsurprisingly, the anti-balaka militiamen reportedly did not wish to be disarmed by force by international peacekeepers and also demanded that efforts be made to disarm former members of the nominally Muslim Seleka rebel group.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, taking control and touching off a cycle of inter-communal violence in the country.  The anti-balaka militias had come into existence initially to provide a measure of self-defense against ex-Seleka rebels, who operated with virtual impunity under the administration of Interim President Michel Djotodia, who had led the group.  Djotodia resigned and fled into exile last month, and since then the anti-balaka militias have exacted brutal reprisals on those they accuse of being rebels or otherwise associating with them.

International peacekeepers have found themselves strained to adequately protect civilians caught in the current crisis, and there have been accusations of complicity with armed groups, notably with regards to Chad.  Government security forces have also been accused of complicity and the International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country.

In response to the continuing violence, France announced yesterday that it will send an additional four hundred personnel to CAR, bringing the total size of its contingent to two thousand individuals.  France’s intervention, codenamed Operation Sangaris, began last December.  The European Union also announced yesterday that it is now planning to send one thousand troops to CAR, doubling its original commitment.

There remain concerns that the additional forces will still not be enough to contain the violence.  The United Nations’ Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that “the United Nations and its regional partners face an urgent test” in CAR.  Secretary General Ban called on the international community to continue to work to end the crisis.  There remain few accurate estimates of the current death toll, but hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally and are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Some two-hundred and fifty thousand have also fled to neighboring countries.