Tag Archives: terrorism

New Reports Suggest U.S. Had Military Precense in Somalia Since 2007

Last week, Reuters reported that rotations of military advisors have been deploying to Somalia since at least 2007. The news agency quoted anonymous US government officials. These revelations come after the Pentagon admitted to a formal advisory mission at the beginning of the year. The official statement was that only three military personnel were in Moghadishu and had been there since October 2013, when they had established a Military Coordination Cell to liaise with Somali authorities and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March 2014, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

These newly uncovered deployments consisted of up to one hundred and twenty special operations forces at a time and were timed to provide a persistent presence, according to Reuters. If these details are correct, these special operators might have participated in the targeting process for a string of air strikes and drone attacks, as well as various commando raids since 2007. US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is currently responsible for operations in Somalia, disputed this, saying that the deployments were smaller and apparently only for specific missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency was largely believed to be in charge of US supported paramilitary activity inside of Somalia until recently. It appears that the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and specifically the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may have also been directly involved in this covert effort. The Pentagon and AFRICOM have also clearly stepped up their overt activities in the restive east African nation since the beginning of 2013. AFRICOM has declined requests to elaborate on these missions beyond saying they are working closely with the Somali government and other African partners to combat the militant group Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab came into existence in 2007 after Ethiopian troops and Somali militia routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a fundamentalist Islamist organization that had taken control of significant portions of the country. Al Shabaab, formed from the remnants of the ICU’s military wing, has continued to fight pro-government forces and international peacekeepers, now operating under the AMISOM title. Al Shabaab assassinated Somali parliamentarian Ahmed Mohamud ‘Hayd’ just last week and killed four people with a car bomb outside the parliament building in Mogadishu yesterday. These attacks are simply the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive responses to AMISOM’s latest offensive. The situation in the country remains complex and fluid.

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US Forces Capture Individual Linked to Benghazi Attack

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that US military and law enforcement personnel cooperated to capture Ahmed Abu Khatallah in Libya. Khatallah is said to be a key figure in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Few details have been offered in regards to the operation. Reports have suggested that 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as Delta Force, and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team performed the raid. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that no casualties of any kind were sustained on either side or among innocent bystanders and categorized the mission as a “success.” Rear Admiral Kirby declined to go into any further details on the capture itself.

US Special Forces "interdict a target vehicle" during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

US Special Forces “interdict a target vehicle” during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

Khatallah was then reportedly whisked out of Benghazi, Libya where he was captured and placed in Department of Justice custody. The Pentagon declined to say where Khatallah was being held, but said he would be tried in a US court over the 2012 attack. Khatallah is described as being central to the attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi on 11-12 September 2012. During the attack, US Ambassador to Libya J. Christoper Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The circumstances of the incident and the US military’s response, codenamed Operation Jukebox Lotus, continue to be controversial among certain domestic political factions.

This is at least the second raid in Libya in the last 12 months to capture a figured accused of terrorism by the US government. American commandos launched another raid last October to capture Abu Anas al Libi. Libi was wanted in connection with the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing and other crimes. The Obama administration has been criticized in recent years for its reliance on targeted strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles rather than attempting to capture terror suspects. The raid last October and this operation yesterday have been cited as examples of a possible shift in policy. American drone strikes continue in other parts of the world, however, suggesting that this might not necessarily be the case.

US Marines Go to Italy as Libya Edges Toward a New Civil War

Libya appears to be teetering on the brink of a new civil war three years after an international intervention helped rebels topple Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, the country’s new authorities have been unable assert its authority and demobilize various independent militias. These armed groups have openly challenged the government on numerous occasions, kidnapping domestic and foreign officials and attempting to sell oil from their own personal fiefdoms.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

The US sent 200 Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) to Italy last week as this recent crisis began to unfold. Today it was reported that additional aircraft were deployed to bolster the force at Naval Air Station Sigonella. The Marines could use their MV-22B Ospreys and KC-130J Hercules aircraft to evacuate Americans from the embassy in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country. SPMAGTF-CR was created last year after the infamous attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. The Marines’ focus is on being able to rapidly assist American diplomatic facilities in hotspots and evacuate personnel to safety. I wrote a longer piece about the Marines’ initial deployment for War is Boring. The US may have also been keeping an eye on Libya with manned or unmanned aircraft, including drones launched from a recently constructed facility in Niger. I have also just written a piece on Niger’s increasing importance in the region, which will only increase if Libya continues to be unstable.

This new crisis reached a head when forces reportedly loyal to General Khalifa Hifter attacked the seat of parliament. Hifter, who had lived in exile in the United States until Gadhafi’s ouster, claims he is trying to rid the country of the Muslim Brotherhood, who he accuses of being a puppet of the large international organization. Islamist political parties came to power earlier this year. The country’s previous prime minister Ali Zidan resigned in March and then his interim successor Abdullah al-Thinni, who had been defense minister, resigned in April. Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood party has in turn accused Hifter of being a reactionary in league with former members of Gadhafi regime.

The conflicting ideologies and the open violence are indicative of the trouble Libya has had in finding common ground after Gadhafi’s departure. The country’s various factions appear to be choosing sides for a broader conflict, but this does not necessarily mean those alliances will have any lasting effect. Al Qaeda aligned groups have vowed to fight Hifter’s forces, but may not necessarily join with forces aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This latest crisis has already caused delays in international efforts to try and develop a professional and objective national security force for Libya that could wrest control away from the largely autonomous militias. Libya’s international partners may also find their allegiances split. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Algeria have all shut down their embassies. American Marines in Italy could conduct their own evacuation mission at any time.

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.

UN Concerns About Somalia Weapons Purchases as Bomb Explodes in Capital

Yesterday, six people were killed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after a car bomb exploded.  Three Somali soldiers were killed in the attack.  The attack, near the city’s airport, appeared to target a United Nations convoy. The militant group Al Shabaab, linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

The bomb came as Reuters reported that it had obtained a confidential UN report regarding diversion of arms from official purchases by Somalia’s central government.  The report comes after the decision was made to ease the arms embargo against the country last March, in an attempt to improve its ability to fight Al Shabaab.

However, the report suggests that some of the arms shipments were diverted to various militias, including those aligned with Al Shabaab.  This serves to reinforce existing concerns about the strength of the central government in Somalia’s complex, clan-based social structure.

For instance, while some diversions could be traced to Al Shabaab-linked militias, the reason behind the diversions seemed to be more linked to clan loyalties.  The report mentioned the planning of arms deliveries to “Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” who is a member of the Abgaal clan.  Somalia’s current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is also a member of the Abgaal clan, as are many of his advisors.

President Mohamud had called on the UN to extend the easing of restrictions just last month.  According to Reuters, the new UN report recommends either restoring the full embargo or otherwise improving mechanisms to track arms shipments.

It is quite possible that President Mohamud could have been attempting to sway Sheikh Isse to switch sides with the deliveries.  Somalia’s central government relies heavily on warlords only nominally under its control to provide security in much of the country.  Other countries, like Kenya and the United States, have also been reportedly supporting such groups in an attempt to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

These parallel forces remain a significant impediment to the credibility of the central government, but are also critical in many ways to the providing of basic security in many places.  UN operations in the country in the 1990s were plagued by the same problems, as the UN struggled to find ways to disarm and demobilize militias, while at the same time finding it necessary to work with them to protect the distribution of vital humanitarian aid.  Finding a lasting solution to this ongoing problem will likely be critical to the establishment of a functional Somali state.

Security Assistance News from the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa

Providing assistance to national security forces has long been one of the key elements of international assistance to developing nations broadly.  The basic concept is that professional militaries and police forces can help instill a sense of confidence in governments, making them more stable as a result.  The stability in turn promotes development in other areas.  Essentially, more security equals more stability, when in turn equals more development.

Libya

This is definitely the goal behind the announcement last year to work on the development of a so-called “General Purpose Force” in Libya, where the central government has been largely ineffectual following the ouster and killing of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.  The various militias in the country that helped overthrow the previous regime continue to hold significant power, especially at the local level, and act with relatively impunity.  In addition, the lack of a functional national security apparatus has meant that much of the country has slipped into what might be described as an under-governed state.  Concerns about terrorists using these regions to establish bases of operation have been voiced by Libya’s neighbors, as well as partners farther afield.

Last week, Libya’s interm Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that almost eight hundred personnel had either been sent to Europe recently or were on their way as part of the new General Purpose Force effort.  Four hundred had already deployed to Turkey, and another four hundred were to go soon to Italy.  Another four hundred are scheduled to eventually travel to Britain.  In total, some eight thousand Libyan personnel are expected to go through twenty-four week training programs in Europe, with additional support provided by the United States.  Zidan also said that there are currently some five thousand Libyan personnel around the world receiving training.  Countries providing training for Libyan forces were said to include Algeria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States.

Gulf of Guinea

Also last week, Maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, South America, and the United States met in Lagos, Nigeria to finalize the exercise plan for this year’s iteration of Obangame Express, a US maritime cooperation exercise held in the Gulf of Guinea.  Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, and the United States will participate in Obangame Express 14, which is the fourth iteration of this exercise.

The exercise is designed to help improve regional capabilities to deter piracy and drug smuggling, as well as other maritime contingencies.  As the threat of piracy has reduced in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, attention to the problem has turned to the Gulf of Guinea, where it remains a serious issue.  Last November, the were reports of a proposal to base US Marines afloat to help address the problem.

Somalia

Today, the German government announced its intention to contribute troops to the European Union training mission in Somalia.  Germany had previously been involved in the training of Somali security forces when the EU mission was located in Uganda.  When the EU moved the operation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last May, the Germans dropped out of the program, citing the increased risk of operating there.  The EU had relocated the program as a gesture meant to affirm its support for the central government in Somalia.

Germany, which has some five thousand personnel taking part in nine international missions, has been urged recently by other European powers, notably France, to become more involved in such efforts.  The bulk of Germany’s international commitment is its three thousand personnel in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  Last week, Germany also announced it would be increasing the size of its contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in Mali.

These announcements potentially signal a change in German foreign policy, which has since the end of the Second World War traditionally been inclined to avoid international commitments where there is a significant potential for violence and casualties.  This month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said earlier this month that “Germany, with all its diplomatic, military and aid capacity cannot stand by when its help is needed”.  Steinmeier is a member of the country’s Social Democrat party, which entered into coalition with the conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.  It has been suggested that this new coalition has been instrumental in these changes in German foreign policy.