The United Nations also launched a major investigation into the legality and casualties of drone strikes by the United States, Britain and Israel.
January 2013 actions
Total CIA strikes in January: 6
Total killed in strikes in January: 27-54, of whom 0-2 were reportedly civilians . . .
The CIA began 2013 with six drone strikes in nine days – more in any single month since August 2012.
With double the strikes hitting Pakistan this month compared with January last year, 2013 could see renewed intensity in the CIA drone programme.
The month’s first strike killed powerful Taliban commander Maulvi (or Mullah) Nazir, ‘perhaps the most prized feather in [the] cap’ of the drone programme to date, according to one commentator. Nazir co-ordinated attacks on Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and had long been a target of the CIA.
However his group refrained from terrorist attacks within Pakistan, earning the label ’good’ Taliban. Brigadier Asad Munir, a retired commander of the ISI, told the Bureau his death could cause serious problems for Islamabad. He said peace with Nazir was essential since Pakistan’s army cannot simultaneously fight both Nazir’s militants and the TTP – the so-called ‘bad’ Taliban behind numerous lethal attacks in Pakistani cities.
Despite this, Pakistan’s response to the strikes in January was muted – notably so, according to Associated Press, as loud protestations had followed almost every strike in 2012.
This could indicate that relations between the allies have improved from their 2012 nadir. The CIA may also have tried to mollify Islamabad by killing senior TTP commander Wali Muhammad Mahsud and announcing that Maulana Fazlullah, commander of the Swat Taliban,is now high on its kill list. The Swat Taliban shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and launches attacks on Pakistan from its bases in Afghanistan. Islamabad has repeatedly called on Nato and Afghan forces to crack down on the group.
Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 8 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-38 Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-7 Children reported killed in US strikes . . . 0-2
* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range in the total strikes and total drone strikes we have recorded reflects this.
The relatively secular-minded Algerian elite brutally crushed Muslim fundamentalist movements of the 1990s, leaving tens of thousands of people dead in a dirty war. This heavy-handed military raid, which inadvertently got over two dozen of the hostages killed, has to be pronounced a failure.
In the no-man’s land of southern Algeria, for a very long time tribes, criminals, smugglers and desert fundamentalists have had free rein. Since the BP gas plant produces 10% of Algeria’s annual export income, you would think Algiers would bother to provide it with some security.
Although the hostage-takers said that their action was in revenge for the French intervention in Mali, the operation had to have been plotted out for much more than a week, and they were just invoking a political cover. In fact, they are a kidnapping operation that makes a lot of money from collecting ransoms on European tourists in southern Algeria.
Meanwhile, Agence France Presse’s excellent profile of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of the group that took the hostages, shows that he was kicked out of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last fall for his criminal tendencies. The French news agency concludes that he is just a gangster in search of profit, not a committed fundamentalist. Belmokhtar went off to Afghanistan in 1991, the last year of the fight against the Soviet-backed puppet government of Najib. He returned in 1992, when the Algerian civil war was beginning between the secular generals and the Islamic Salvation Front (French acronym FIS). FIS contested elections in 1991 and won parliament, but he alarmed generals closed parliament and sent the MPs home. The subsequent struggle became a brutal civil war that killed perhaps 150,000 Algerians. Belmokhtar joined the Armed Islamic Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate funded in part by Usama Bin Laden from the Sudan. But in recent years Belmokhtar, whatever his youthful commitments, has become little more than a thug.
The destabilization of Mali and southern Algeria is a complex political and social process that does not have only one cause. But a changing ecology forced by climate change is a major contributor to the region’s problems.
This region is part of a Saharan and sub-Saharan band across Africa called the Sahel. I have traveled a bit in the far west of the Sahel, in rural Senegal.
The climate of the Sahel has fluctuated over the decades, being determined by big phenomena such as El Nino and the Indian Ocean monsoon, as well, it has been discovered, as how warm the waters of the Indian Ocean are. In the first 7 decades of the twentieth century, the region got a fair amount of rainfall, and lower Mali where the capital of Bamako is could raise livestock, making Malians agriculturally relatively well off. The consequent rise in population (Mali is now about 15 million) probably made the country overpopulated for what it could sustain in the more arid decades after 1980, when the warming waters of the Indian Ocean produced dry conditions in the Sahel.
Global warming has accelerated in the past 40 years, as the billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide factories have spewed into the atmosphere has produced a greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere.
The drought of the 1970s caused thousands of northern Mali Tuaregs to go to Libya. Col. Muammar Qaddafi organized them as a mercenary unit. Qaddafi, however, dissolved it in the late 1980s, at which time many Tuareg came back to Mali and participated in the 1990 coup.
“… Iyad Ag Ghali was born in the Kidal Region of northern Mali. He hails from the Ifoghas Family, a noble Tuareg family. The northern region, at that time, was prosperous owing to livestock development; however, it later suffered a severe drought which destroyed life in the region and made the residents migrate to distant countries, reaching Chad and Libya. (Late Libyan Leader)
Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi took advantage of the Tuareg migration from northern (Mali) and established an independent Tuareg army that he called the “Islamic Legion” (also known as the Islamic Pan-African Legion). Iyad Ag Ghali joined this legion in early 1980s and showed tremendous courage. This prompted Al-Qadhafi to send him to Lebanon to fight against the Christian phalangists there. He also took part in the Chad war before returning to Mali as Al-Qadhafi announced the dissolution of the Islamic Legion. However, the moment he returned to Mali, he contributed to the 1990 military rebellion and became one of the outstanding leaders of the rebellion movement. It was he who led the final attack of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) against the Malian forces in Manaka City on 28 June 1990.”
Ghali was active in the secular Tuareg nationalist movement, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), in northern Mali in the 1990s.
Then in the late 1990s, he came into contact with the Tablighi Jama’at, a Pakistan-based Muslim revivalist organization that specializes in helping secularized Muslims recover their faith. Tablighi Jama’at is politically quietist and not violent, but is relatively fundamentalist with regard to approach to Islam. Ghali became fanatically religious and gradually adopted Wahhabi ideas, becoming devoted to destroying the Sufi shrines so popular in Mali.
“When the rebellion movement broke out once again in northern Mali in 2006, former (Malian) President (Amadou) Toumani Toure assigned him the task of negotiating with the Tuareg. In August 2006, the negotiations resulted in the Algiers Accords. In 2007, the president appointed him as a consular adviser in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. However, in 2010, he returned after suspicions arose about his affiliation with Al-Qa’ida Organization. Having been deported to his country of origin, he reassumed his previous role as a mediator in releasing hostages; he had become wealthy by then. In 2011, he separated himself from the MNLA, established the “Ansar al-Din,” and, in alliance with jihadist movements, he became in control on the ground. In his first military move since he changed intellectual and ideological convictions, Iyad (Ag) Ghali attacked the city of Aguelhok in far northern Mali and took over a fortified military base of the army there.”
Ansar Dine, Ghali’s organization, doesn’t seem to me to have grown out of the 2011 Libyan War and return of Tuareg mercenaries from Libya. Ghali came back from Libya in the late 1980s, and his turn to radical Muslim fundamentalism happened in Mali in the late 1990s under Pakistani influence.
The return in 2011 of further mercenaries did contribute to the declaration of Azawad independence by the Berbers of the north by the secular nationalist Azawad National Liberation Movement. Its members don’t for the most part agree with Ghali’s harsh Wahhabi ideas.
In turn, the loss of territory in the north angered the Mali officer corps and contributed to their decision to make a coup against elected president Amadou Toumani Touré last March. The sanctions slapped on Mali as a result by its neighbors and by NATO members later last year forced the military to at least say that they were abadoning the coup, installing the speaker of parliament, Dioncounda Traoré and a national unity cabinet. This government was in turn overthrown by the officers in December, 2012, so that there has been a second coup.
The weakness of the Mali government likely is related to the drought years of the past decade, during which hundreds of thousands of Malians were forced to emigrate to other countries and the agricultural productivity and tax base of the more fertile south was devastated. This economic decline at the center made it easier for the rebel Tuareg of the north to declare their Azawad. There are several factions in the north, some of them Berber-nationalist and relatively secular, but the best fighters seem to be Ghali’s Ansar Dine, and their movement south last Thursday helped provoke the French intervention. The harsh drought conditions may or may not have contributed to the radicalization of sections of Mali’s Muslim population, though of course that the radicalization took the form of radical fundamentalism is an accident of history (in the Cold War period they likely would have turned Communist)
The Socialist government of France’s Francois Hollande intervened in Mali on Friday and Saturday to stop the advance of Muslim fundamentalists toward the capital, with operations continuing today (Sunday). The radicals had taken Konna, a few hundred kilometers north of the capital of Bamako, which Hollande’s government appears to have considered a red line.
Under a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to support the Mali government, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) had planned an intervention with some 3000 troops. It will mainly be a Nigerian force, with Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger also pitching in 500 men each. The idea was to train the Malian army to defend its own country, which meant that no offensive was originally envisaged until September. The advance south of the fundamentalists forced Hollande’s hand. He is likely getting pressure from Algeria and other neighbors of Mali to do something before the radicals march into the capital and then have a whole country from which to launch further attacks. Hollande said he considered Ansar al-Din a threat not only to Mali and its neighbors but to France and Europe. It responded by threatening France. ECOWAS now says that a few hundred troops will be deployed to Mali immediately.
A coup in the capital last year was taken advantage of by at least two groups in the vast north of the country (an area as big as France itself). One was the relatively secular Tuareg, who proclaimed an independent Berber state, Azawad. The other, however, was Muslim fundamentalists, Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao). They appear to have subordinated the Tuaregs in much of the north, and by Thursday had taken Konna and were heading toward the central town of Mopti. The French intervention stopped their advance toward the capital.
Mali, a country of about 16 million (roughly the demographic size of the Netherlands or a little less populous than Florida), is 5 percent animist, 5 percent Christian, and 90 percent Muslim. But most Malians practice a Sufi and liberal-minded form of the religion, which values music and urbane culture. A small radical group based in the country’s vast north has come under Wahhabi influences from Saudi Arabia and wants to impose their fundamentalism on the whole country, attacking Sufi shrines (the equivalent of saints’ tombs in Catholicism).
Having Avigdor Lieberman as a foreign minister is one of the worst things that could happen to Israel. I was in Brazil last year this time when Lieberman visited, and parliamentarians were saying they would not meet with him because they consider him a racist. He has a long record of saying offensive and chauvinist things, like that if Egypt gives Israel too much trouble, the Israeli air force should just bomb the Aswan Dam, and sweep the Egyptians into the Mediterranean.
Now the Israeli government has poked South Africa in the eye.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon just said that South Africa ‘remains an Apartheid state,’ and that ‘at the moment South Africa’s Apartheid is aimed at Israel.”
The whole rest of the world, virtually without exception, considers Israel’s aggressive settlement of the Occupied Palestinian Territories illegal. Many consumers, even ones generally supportive of Israel proper, don’t want to abet the squatters’ land theft and expropriation of the Palestinians, and would not knowingly buy something made at a squatter settlement. But Israeli authorities (who are actively promoting and funding the squatters) label what they make as ‘made in Israel.’
All South Africa did was demand that West Bank settlers’ produce be labelled as such. In the Apartheid era, whites in South Africa carved out Bantustans to marginalize black Africans, just as Israel is doing to Palestinians on the West Bank. And, African property rights were never secure under Apartheid. In a way, South African blacks were stateless in their own country, just as West Bank Pelestinians are. So it is natural that the government of South African, now dominated by elements of the African National Congress that fought Apartheid, should take a dim view of Israeli actions on the West Bank. There is also lingering resentment among many South Africans at the ways Israel supported and enabled the Apartheid government, with which it had close economic and political ties. Israel has never acknowledged or come to terms with that shameful episode, which may account for its inability to accept criticism from the new Pretoria.
Only in the fevered, hothouse atmosphere of the Israeli Far Right could Pretoria’s simple request be seen as itself a form of racism, or as directed at Israel itself. It is directed at an Israeli policy, which the World Court has ruled illegal, and for which Israel would certainly face severe international sanctions if the US did not consistently block the other members of the UN Security Council in condemning it.
Ayalon’s despererate and over-the-top rhetoric smells of fear, fear that when South Africa calls you on Apartheid policies, it legitimizes that critique of the Greater Israel project — now the only major project of the Ruling Israeli Far Right.
Obama’s Scramble for Africa Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s “New Spice Route” in Africa By Nick Turse
They call it the New Spice Route, an homage to the medieval trade network that connected Europe, Africa, and Asia, even if today’s “spice road” has nothing to do with cinnamon, cloves, or silks. Instead, it’s a superpower’s superhighway, on which trucks and ships shuttle fuel, food, and military equipment through a growing maritime and ground transportation infrastructure to a network of supply depots, tiny camps, and airfields meant to service a fast-growing U.S. military presence in Africa.
Few in the U.S. know about this superhighway, or about the dozens of training missions and joint military exercises being carried out in nations that most Americans couldn’t locate on a map. Even fewer have any idea that military officials are invoking the names of Marco Polo and the Queen of Sheba as they build a bigger military footprint in Africa. It’s all happening in the shadows of what in a previous imperial age was known as “the Dark Continent.”
In East African ports, huge metal shipping containers arrive with the everyday necessities for a military on the make. They’re then loaded onto trucks that set off down rutted roads toward dusty bases and distant outposts.
On the highway from Djibouti to Ethiopia, for example, one can see the bare outlines of this shadow war at the truck stops where local drivers take a break from their long-haul routes. The same is true in other African countries. The nodes of the network tell part of the story: Manda Bay, Garissa, and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema in the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; Dire Dawa in Ethiopia; and the Pentagon’s showpiece African base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, among others.
According to Pat Barnes, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Camp Lemonnier serves as the only official U.S. base on the continent. “There are more than 2,000 U.S. personnel stationed there,” he told TomDispatch recently by email. “The primary AFRICOM organization at Camp Lemonnier is Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). CJTF-HOA’s efforts are focused in East Africa and they work with partner nations to assist them in strengthening their defense capabilities.”
Barnes also noted that Department of Defense personnel are assigned to U.S. embassies across Africa, including 21 individual Offices of Security Cooperation responsible for facilitating military-to-military activities with “partner nations.” He characterized the forces involved as small teams carrying out pinpoint missions. Barnes did admit that in “several locations in Africa, AFRICOM has a small and temporary presence of personnel. In all cases, these military personnel are guests within host-nation facilities, and work alongside or coordinate with host-nation personnel.”
In 2003, when CJTF-HOA was first set up there, it was indeed true that the only major U.S. outpost in Africa was Camp Lemonnier. In the ensuing years, in quiet and largely unnoticed ways, the Pentagon and the CIA have been spreading their forces across the continent. Today — official designations aside — the U.S. maintains a surprising number of bases in Africa. And “strengthening” African armies turns out to be a truly elastic rubric for what’s going on.
Under President Obama, in fact, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years: last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders. And this only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.