Tag Archives: Cameroon

AFRICOM’s Obangame Express Exercise Starts Up in the Gulf of Guinea

This year’s Obangame Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on April 16th in the Gulf of Guniea. This year’s exercise is taking place off the coasts of Cameroon and Nigeria. As with the other Express series exercises, Obangame Express will consist of an in-port preparatory phase, followed by an at-sea exercise to test the participants maritime security skills. This year, 31 ships from Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States will participate in the exercise. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Lagos. This includes the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1), which is the first of its class and on its maiden voyage.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead was in Nigeria for Obangame Express 2014.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead arrived in Nigeria to participate in Obangame Express 2014. The ship was on its maiden voyage in the region as part of the Africa Partnership Station mission.

Obangame Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). According to the US Navy, Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.

Obangame Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  “Obangame” means “togetherness” in a local Cameroonian language. These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program. Obangame Express is also especially concerned with the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. With the decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, more attention has been focused on the matter of piracy in West Africa.

The plans for this year’s exercise were finalized back in February. The US Navy said the objective was to mirror the positive results of the 2013 exercise, tailoring scenarios closely to real-world maritime security challenges. This year’s exercise involves almost three times as many ships from more than twice as many countries when compared to Obangame Express 2013.

Annual Aerial Delivery Exercise Begins in Cameroon

Last week, Exercise Central Accord 2014, US Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) annual aerial delivery exercise, led by US Army Africa (USARAF), began recently in Cameroon. According to AFRICOM, the exercise brings together US Army personnel with African militaries to help them improve their air drop capabilities to deliver both military materials and humanitarian aid. Training on aeromedical evacuation is also part of this year’s exercise.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

More than 1,000 military and civilian personnel will participate in this year’s Central Accord exercise. Participants in the exercise come from Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Netherlands, Nigeria,  and the US. The exercise will involve four days of academic training, a combined jump, and five days of situational training.  The last phase will be conducted in Koutaba, Cameroon. The country’s 102 Air Force Base the capital in Douala will also be used. The exercise will end on March 21st.

Cameroon is a good choice for this year’s exercise, given its proximity to a number of regional crises. Cameroon had served as a staging point for France’s intervention into Central African Republic, Operation Sangaris, which began last year. France, however, says it will focus on Cote d’Ivoire as its primary entry point and logistics hub in the region for future operations.

This exercise was started by US European Command (EUCOM) in 1996, at which time it was called Atlas Drop. AFRICOM took over the exercise in 2008, and renamed it Atlas Accord in 2012. This put it in line with AFRICOM’s other “Accord series” exercises, which focus on training African ground forces. This year, the exercise was renamed again to Central Accord, further streamlining its name with the Accord series. Other annual exercises in the series include Eastern Accord, Northern Accord, Southern Accord, and Western Accord.

In other exercise related news, this year’s Saharan Express maritime exercise came to a close on Friday. Saharan Express 2014 was marked by a gradual transfer of responsibilities for planning, conducting the exercise, and providing logistical support from the US Navy to the navies and coast guards of the West Africa participants.

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.

Crises Continue in CAR, South Sudan

Central African Republic’s Transitional National Council (TNC), in a very public election attended by foreign observers and members of the media, picked the woman currently serving as the mayor of the country’s capital as the next interim President.  Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza now becomes the country’s first female president and its latest hope for helping to end the crisis in the country since the violent overthrow of President Francois Bozize by rebels last March.  Samba-Panza received seventy-five votes from the TNC, significantly more than her nearest rival, Desire Kolingba, the son of former president Andre Kolingba, who received fifty-three votes.  There is a hope that Samba-Panza, who had a successful private sector career before being appointed Mayor of Bangui last year, would provide a break from the country’s previous political establishment.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

Whoever secured the TNC’s backing had their work cut out for them, with the last interim President and former rebel leader, Michel Djotodia having gone into exile and leaving the country in the midst of violence and uncertainty.  French and African Union forces continue to try and help maintain law and order, and the US and others continue to help rush peacekeepers into the country to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  The European Union has also announced that after significant lobbying by France it will be contributing its own peacekeeping force to the country, along with increased humanitarian aid.  This will be the EU’s first land operation since 2008 when it deployed a force to the Chad-CAR border.  In addition to fighting inside CAR, the upheaval has threatened neighboring countries, most notably Cameroon, where there were reports today of violence along the border.  Codebook: Africa has previously pointed out the threat of spillover from CAR to Cameroon.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Cameroon has also been threatened by violence in neighboring South Sudan, where a crisis also continues.  Fighting in the town of Malakal in Upper Nile state resulted in thirty-four people sheltering inside a facility operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) being wounded by stray bullets.  UNMISS says that it is sheltering over twenty-thousand individuals in Malakal and more than seventy-thousand in total at facilities across the country.  The UN Security Council has approved the expansion of the UNMISS mission to help protect civilians from the violence.  Fighting continues between the government and rebels, in spite of peace talks.  Rebels were previously calling just for the release of those accused by the government of attempting a coup in December before starting negotiations, but are now also calling for Ugandan forces to leave the country.

Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni admitted that forces from the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) were fighting alongside South Sudanese government forces against rebels and that some UPDF troops had died in operations there.  Previously, President Museveni’s administration had said that UPDF troops were working to help evacuate civilians.

Cameroon Finds Itself Caught Up in Regional Violence

On December 31st, French citizen Georges Vandenbeusch, a Catholic priest working in northern Cameroon who was kidnapped last year by Boko Haram, was freed.  As with other releases of French hostages in Africa in 2013, the details of his release are sparse and it is believed that a ransom was paid.  Following his release, Vandenbeusch was flown from the town of Maroua in the north to the country’s capital, Yaounde by a Cameroonian military aircraft.  He had been held in captivity for approximately seven weeks.

Map of Cameroon

Map of Cameroon

This is not the first time Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist militant group recently declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, has kidnapped French citizens in Cameroon.  In February 2013, seven French citizens were abducted in the northern part of the country.  They were later released.  French authorities said the Boko Haram threat had led them to urge Vandenbeusch to leave the area, but that he had declined.  Boko Haram rebels have sought refuge in the country as the Nigerian government continues to step up its campaign against the group.  Most recently, Nigerian forces reportedly killed over fifty Boko Haram militants in a combined air and ground attack.  Cameroon has also deployed its elite Rapid Intervention Battalion to the country’s north to try and fight the infiltration.

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.

In addition, elements nominally loyal to former Central African Republic Francois Bozize, deposed by Seleka rebels last March, have reportedly attempted to establish a base area in Cameroon.  Bozize had fled to Cameroon initially following his ouster.  These forces were reportedly responsible for an attack in the border town of Biti in November and Cameroonian authorities have engaged in numerous border skirmishes with armed individuals coming from CAR since formally closing the border in August.  However, as French and AU forces in CAR put pressure on former Seleka rebels as part of UN-backed peacekeeping effort there, they too have begun to flee into Cameroon.  Cameroonian forces, again from the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion, recently arrested a number of former Seleka rebels who had taken over a gold mine in the northern part of the country.

Though Cameroon’s geography is likely the predominant reason it has seen spillover from these other conflicts and crises its close relationship with France is no doubt also a factor.  The French military conducted significant interventions in Mali and CAR in 2013, which have continued into the New Year.  French forces are deployed to Cameroon and used it as a launching platform for Operation Sangaris, the intervention in CAR.  The French military also expressed an interest at the end of last year in being able to conduct counter-terrorism operations more broadly.  It is likely that Cameroon will continue to feel the effects of regional insecurity for some time to come.  It remains to be seen how the country’s institutions will weather these crises.

Crises in CAR and Libya

Crises in Central African Republic and Libya have been heating up in recent weeks.  Yesterday in CAR, two people were reported killed in clashes following the killing of a local magistrate and his assistant by former Seleka rebels.  The Seleka rebel group seized power in March, after which the group’s leader, Michel Djotodia, named himself president and declared the group to have been dissolved.  Rebels unhappy with the move, which appeared to be an attempt by Djotodia to consolidate power, continue to operate in armed gangs in the outskirts of the capital Bangui, where they go largely unchecked, committing acts of violence and petty crime by most reports.  The area around the capital and the country as a whole are often described as being in a state of near anarchy.

Perhaps more alarmingly, the government of Cameroon stated that on Saturday armed men from CAR had attack Cameroonian military installations, offices, and markets, looting stores and killing two before being forced by Cameroonian forces to withdraw.  Reports said that the men were wearing CAR military uniforms.  It is also the third time that armed men from CAR have attacked Cameroon, with the first attack in August leading to Cameroon closing the border. It is possible that this latest attack was an attempt to free Abdoulaye Miskine, the leader of a Seleka splinter group called the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FPDC), who had been arrested in Cameroon in September.

Lord's Resistance Army Area of Influence, circa February 2012

Lord’s Resistance Army Area of Influence, circa February 2012

The overall situation in CAR has prompted the AU to prepare a peacekeeping mission, titled MISCA, but it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.  CAR was also a major focal point in the campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, supported by the US Operation Observant Compass.  This effort has reportedly been severely degraded following the upheaval in March.

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

Libya also continues to struggle with remnants of its civil war that led to the fall of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.  Militias continue to operate with impunity in many areas, and lacking a functional security service, the new government in the country relies heavily on them for its own security.  Efforts to train a functional national military and other security service elements have so far failed to produce the desired results.  This is of great concern to the United States and European powers, given the already porous nature of Libya’s borders (a security summit held in Rabat, Morocco on the 14th, which Libya attended, had already declared a need for increased border security in the Sahel-Sahara region broadly), the limited government control in much of the country, and the rise of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region.

To give a sense of things in Libya, the country’s Deputy Intelligence Chief, Mustafa Nuh, had been abducted from the airport in Tripoli by armed militiamen yesterday, only to be released today.  The country’s Prime Minister had also been briefly abducted in October, in what observers and his aides said was possibly a political plot or even an attempted coup.  This latest abduction follows a protest against militias in Tripoli on Friday that turned violent as militiamen attempted to break it up, resulting in the deaths of over 40 protesters.  Libya subsequently declared a state of emergency in Tripoli and protesters called a three-day general strike.  The Libyan government was also reportedly working to dissolve the pro-government Revolutionary Operations Bureau militia, which had been one of the groups involved in the recent violence in Tripoli and responsible for the abduction of the Prime Minister.  It remained unclear whether the government had the capability to do so, or even a real desire to do so, given the state of the country’s security forces as already mentioned.