Tuesday, May 13, 2014

AFRICOM conducts operations against Caliphate vanguard Boko Haram in Nigeria

"Western intervention will turn Nigeria into an African Afghanistan; 
The plight of kidnapped girls is set against the corruption and inequality that the west's economic war has helped to create"
2014-05-06 by Lindsey German for "theguardian.com" [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/western-intervention-nigeria-kidnapped-girls-corruption-boko-haram]:
'There is widespread corruption, yet weapons and armies are paid to protect the wealthy and the foreign companies like Shell that want to access the country’s resources, especially oil.' Photograph by George Esiri/EPA, showing 2011 protest against Shell after a oil spill from a Shell oil field in Nigeria

It seems almost beyond belief that more than 200 girls can be kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria, held by the terrorist group Boko Haram, and threatened on a video – shown worldwide – with being sold into slavery by their captors. The disbelief is compounded by today's news that, overnight, eight more girls have been kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram gunmen in north-east Nigeria. This tragedy touches the hearts of everyone, evoking a feeling of revulsion not only at the danger and loss of freedom itself, but at the assumption that for young girls their destination must be forced marriage and servitude, not education.
There is rightly anger that so little has been done by the Nigerian government to find the girls, and that those who have demonstrated in huge numbers against President Goodluck Jonathan have themselves been accused of causing trouble or even temporarily arrested.
But we should be wary of the narrative now emerging. This follows a wearily familiar pattern, one we have already seen in south Asia and the Middle East, but that is increasingly being applied to Africa as well.
It is the refrain that something must be done and that "we" – the enlightened west – must be the people to do it. As the US senator Amy Klobuchar put it: "This is one of those times when our action or inaction will be felt not just by those schoolgirls being held captive and their families waiting in agony, but by victims and perpetrators of trafficking around the world. Now is the time to act."
The call has been for western intervention to help find the girls, and to help "stabilise" Nigeria in the aftermath of their kidnap. The British government has offered "practical help".
Yet western intervention has time and again failed to deal with particular problems and – worse – has led to more deaths, displacements and atrocities than were originally faced. All too often it has been justified with reference to women's rights, claiming that enlightened military forces can create an atmosphere where women are free from violence and abuse. The evidence is that the opposite is the case.
Women's rights were a major justification for the Afghanistan war, launched in 2001, when Cherie Blair and Laura Bush supported their husbands' war as a means of liberating Afghan women. Today, with millions displaced and tens of thousands dead, Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries on earth for women to live, with forced marriage, child marriage, rape and other atrocities still occurring widely.
And western intervention is already firmly embedded in Africa. It does not have the same profile as in Afghanistan or Iraq, because past wars have made it harder to put boots on the ground. But Barack Obama has his military forces engaged in West Africa through their Predator drone base in Niger, which borders northern Nigeria. It also borders Mali, the scene of recent French and British interventions, and Libya, object of a disastrous western bombing campaign in 2011 that has left that country in a state of civil war and collapse.
US drones also operate in Djibouti, Ethiopia and just across the Red Sea in Yemen. The west has been engaged in proxy wars in Somalia in recent years.
If Islamism is now a threat to western interests in growing parts of Africa, it is one that they have played a large part in creating.
But there is another war going on in Africa: economic war. A continent so rich in natural resources sees many of its citizens live in terrible conditions. In President Jonathan's Nigeria, economic growth has not trickled down to the poor. Healthcare and education are beyond the reach of many.
There is widespread corruption, yet weapons and armies are paid to protect the wealthy and the foreign companies, such as Shell, that want to access the country's resources, especially oil. This corruption and inequality is not separate from the role of the west, but an integral part of a system that is prepared to go to war over resources such as oil and gas, but will not go to war on poverty or to provide education for all.
It is this background that informs the terrible plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. It will not be improved by more western weapons and armies on the ground or in the air.

"AFRICOM Chief to Aid Search for Nigerian Schoolgirls"
2014-05-13 from "AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE (AFP)" newswire:
A screengrab taken from a video released May 12 by Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram shows girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading 'There is no god, but Allah' and 'Mohammed is Allah's prophet' at an undisclosed rural location. (AFP)

ABUJA, NIGERIA — The commander of US forces in Africa held talks Tuesday in Nigeria as Washington sought to help the government in Abuja trace more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants.
Gen. David Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, flew to Nigeria on Monday as the United States confirmed it was flying manned surveillance aircraft over the country and sharing commercial satellite imagery to aid the hunt for the abducted girls.
The talks are focused in part on forging an agreement that will enable the United States to share intelligence with Nigeria from spy planes and other sources, officials said Tuesday.
“At this point, we are not sharing the raw intelligence data” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren told reporters.
“We are working closely with the Nigerians to establish intelligence sharing protocols,” he said.
The US government insists on elaborate safeguards to govern intelligence sharing with other countries, fearing that sensitive information could fall into an adversary’s hands.
The United States already has deployed a team of 30 specialists from different agencies, including 16 military personnel, to help in the search for the kidnapped schoolgirls.
“We’re playing a supporting role and bringing our capabilities and expertise to bear ... in complementing their efforts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
As Nigeria faced a “difficult mission” searching a vast area, the team was designed to “provide military and law enforcement assistance as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support,” she said.
The US general’s trip to the country was scheduled prior to the crisis and Rodriguez also was discussing the US military’s long-term relations with Nigerian forces, officials said.
A defense official told AFP that Rodriguez “is discussing US assistance for the search as well as overall cooperation.”
The four-star general held talks with Nigerian civilian and military officials, including Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, chief of the defense staff, according to Nigeria’s defense ministry.
Badeh expressed “appreciation” to the US general on Tuesday as Washington had responded “positively” to an appeal for help in the search for the abducted schoolgirls, the ministry said in a statement.
The Nigerian military has “benefited immensely from the bilateral relationship” with the United States, receiving valuable training and hardware, it said.
Prior to the kidnapping, Nigeria showed little interest in large-scale cooperation with the US military. And Washington has harbored concerns over what it sees as heavy-handed tactics by Nigerian troops in their fight against Boko Haram militants in the north.
Boko Haram extremists abducted 276 girls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Borno state on April 14, and some 223 are still missing.
The militants on Monday released a new video purporting to show some of the girls.
US intelligence experts are “combing through every detail of the video for clues,” a State Department spokeswoman said on Monday.
British, French and Israeli specialists are also providing assistance to Nigeria, which has been accused of responding too slowly to the kidnapping and even of ignoring a forewarning that it was imminent.
Pentagon officials declined to rule out if Washington would provide drones to aid in the search and would not say publicly what type of manned military surveillance aircraft were flying over Nigeria.
Although some US lawmakers have called for a US military operation to rescue the girls, the Pentagon reiterated that it was not preparing any such attempt by US special operations forces.
“There’s no discussion at this point to send operators into Nigeria to conduct any kind of rescue operation,” Warren said.

"US flying drones over Nigeria in search for girls"
2014-05-14 from "AFP" newswire:
The US military is flying surveillance drones as well as manned aircraft over Nigeria to help the search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist extremists, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
However, the data is not yet being shared with the Nigerians because Washington is still working out an agreement to govern the sharing of intelligence, Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.
The United States has deployed a Global Hawk, which flies at high altitude, and the manned MC-12, a turboprop plane heavily used in Afghanistan, for the mission, a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.
The Pentagon had initially declined to say publicly if drones were being used.
"I can confirm that we're using both manned and unmanned aerial ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets in the search for the kidnapped girls," Warren said, without identifying the plane models.
Both types of aircraft are "unarmed" and being used strictly for surveillance to help track the location of the schoolgirls whose plight has made worldwide headlines, he added.
The unmanned Global Hawk, designed to succeed the U-2 spy plane, can survey a vast area of about 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) in a day with its sophisticated radar and sensors.
But the Americans insist on precise protocols on how intelligence can be passed on to other countries, fearing that sensitive information could fall into an adversary's hands.
The commander of US forces in Africa, General David Rodriguez, paid a two-day visit to Nigeria this week to discuss how Washington can aid the government in the kidnapping crisis, including an accord on intelligence sharing.
Boko Haram extremists abducted 276 girls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok on April 14, and some 223 are still missing.
The kidnapping has triggered global outrage and the militants on Monday released a new video purporting to show some of the girls.
"We are continuing to work with the Nigerians to help locate the girls. We really don't know where the girls are," said a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The area to be searched was "vast" and ideas about what may have happened to the girls remained "speculation," the official said.

- Limited relations -
The United States was also conferring with neighboring countries and "those governments too are in communication with the Nigerians because they've all been engaged to try to figure out how to help with the search for the girls," the official said.
Prior to the kidnapping, the US military had only limited relations with the Nigerian armed forces, which has included training on detecting and defusing homemade bombs.
Security ties have been hampered partly due to Washington's concerns over heavy-handed tactics and human rights abuses by Nigerian troops battling militants in the northeast.
The State Department official acknowledged the issue, saying "we've been very clear about our concerns about... reports of and evidence of (rights) abuses and excessive violations of the Nigerian military."
Washington has urged the Nigerian government "to hold violators accountable."
Under US law, the American government faces restrictions on its security cooperation with foreign military units linked to human rights abuses.
As a result, the United States cannot work with a particular Nigerian counter-terrorism unit, the official said.
Hawkish Republican Senator John McCain said the Pentagon should consider acting unilaterally and sending US special forces in to rescue the girls.
"We're the best-trained, most professional military in the world, and if we know where these young girls are, we should go rescue them," McCain told reporters.
McCain mocked the capabilities of Nigeria's military and said any special forces entry should be done without their knowledge.
"You don't want to alert these people," he said of Boko Haram. "These are animals. They are outside the boundaries of human acceptable behavior."
US military officials said privately that a rescue mission would be fraught with massive risks and dangers and that it currently was not deemed an option.

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