Pakistan: Taliban threaten co-educational schools

The co-educational schools that the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) runs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan are under attack from Pakistan’s new Taliban movement.


Are We Really That Irrelevant?

We’ve been trying to reach our winter fund-drive goal of $2,000 since the beginning of December. The total now stands at $1,390. That means $610 to go.

We really don’t get it, even given the current financial crisis. All the other left-wing websites out thereā€”both the ones we have fraternal relations with like Toward Freedom and those we frankly view as rivals due to their bad politics, such as CounterPunchā€”can routinely raise twice that in a fraction of the time. This isn’t exactly encouraging.

If you are reading these words, please pitch in so we can concentrate on bringing you news instead of asking for funds for the rest of the year. Or, if you chose not to support, us please tell us why! Use the Paypal link to the left, or click here. Or write us at feedback (at) (remove spaces, obviously).


Issue #157, May 2009

Electronic Journal & Daily Report THE VOICE OF FREE SOMALILAND An Interview with Dr. Saad Noor, North American representative of the Republic of Somaliland by Bill Weinberg, WBAI Radio AFRICOM: MAKING PEACE OR FUELING WAR? The Pentagon’s African Agenda by… Read moreIssue #157, May 2009


Crosses mark where slain women were found outside JuĆ”rez. Photo: Flickr” title=”Crosses mark where slain women were found outside JuĆ”rez. Photo: Flickr” class=”image image-_original” width=”500″ height=”375″ />Crosses mark where slain women were found outside JuĆ”rez. Photo: FlickrWar on Women in the Borderlands

from Frontera NorteSur

Up and down the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, from Laredo to Albuquerque, families and friends protest, plead and pray for the return of their missing daughters, mothers and loved ones.

In Laredo, Texas, a case of two missing young women ended on a positive note April 3, when 19-year-old Yazmin Silva and 18-year-old Nydia Benavides were returned home. The two friends were reported missing in Laredo’s sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, on March 29. A car driven by the young women was subsequently recovered in a supermarket parking lot not far from Nuevo Laredo’s red-light district.

US and Mexican law enforcement officials teamed up find out what happened to Silva and Benavides, but it is still not clear who was behind the disappearance of the two friends and for what ends. Elizabeth HernĆ”ndez Arredondo, investigator for the Tamaulipas state attorney general’s office, confirmed the two young women were held against their will, but insisted their nearly week-long absence was “not a case involving organized crime.”

After reappearing in public, Benavides and Silva hid their faces and avoided talking to the media. Benavidesā€™ mother, Angeles Benavides, later described her daughter as depressed and in need of treatment.

While last week brought good news to two families, others in the two Laredos continued to wonder about their loved ones. A web site maintained by the relatives’ group Laredo’s Missing lists 17 women reported vanished between 2003-2006.

In Ciudad JuƔrez, Chihuahua, many families also anguish over the fate of missing relatives. Scores of young women have been reported missing since the early 1990s, with the latest instance involving an 18-year old student from the Autonomous University of Ciudad JuƔrez (UACJ), Monica Janeth Alanis Esparza, who vanished last March 26 after advising her family she was leaving the school to go with friends.

“My family is destroyed,” said Monica’s father Ricardo Alanis. “We are desperate from not knowing anything.”

The missing person’s department of the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office lists 33 “high-risk” cases of young women who disappeared in Ciudad JuĆ”rez between 1995 and March 2009, but many womenā€™s advocates say the true number is much higher.

According to research by El Paso reporter and author Diana Washington Valdez and subsequent press reports, more than 620 women have been murdered in Ciudad JuƔrez because of various reasons since 1993; reportedly, 22 women have been slain in the border city since the beginning of 2009.

The prevalence of forced disappearance and violence against women motivated a group of human rights activists and mothers of missing and murdered women to stage a protest outside the Ciudad JuĆ”rez offices of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) on April 3. The group demanded that the Mexican government comply with international human rights agreements protecting women from violence, that Mexico finally get to the bottom of the femicides and disappearances and that former Chihuahua governor Francisco Barrio be retired as Mexico’s ambassador to Canada.

Mothers of femicide victims and their supporters contend that as governor of the state of Chihuahua from 1992-98, Barrio blamed the alleged lifestyles of victimized women for the violent crimes perpetrated against them, while he permitted the mass murders of women to go unchecked by helping to fabricate a scapegoat for the crimes, the late Egyptian national Abdul Latif Sharif Sharif.

“Let’s Not Export Impunity,” read a sign at the April 3 demonstration in Ciudad JuĆ”rez. “Barrio is not a dignified representative of Mexicans,” charged Marisela Ortiz, spokeswoman for the Ciudad JuĆ”rez non-governmental organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa.

A letter containing protestors’ demands was also written to the Mexican Senate. In addition to Nuestras Hijas, signatories included Pastoral Obrera, Tonantzin Women’s Center, Mesa de Mujeres, academic researchers from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte and UACJ, and many other individuals and groups.

Simultaneous to the Ciudad JuĆ”rez demonstration, the Quebec Federation of Women, Committee for Human Rights in Latin America and Committee in Solidarity with the Women of Ciudad JuĆ”rez held protests outside Mexican consulates in Montreal and Ottawa in support of the demand that Barrio be declared “persona non-grata” in Mexico’s most northern NAFTA partner.

There was no immediate public comment by either the SRE or Ambassador Barrio on the bi-national demonstrations.

Four hours upriver from Ciudad JuƔrez, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is another community now forced to come to terms with issues of violence against women.

In a scene strikingly reminiscent of previous events in Ciudad JuƔrez, a group of relatives and their supporters gathered on the bitterly cold evening April 4 to honor the memories of at least 20 young women who have gone missing or fallen victim to the streets since 1989. As an arctic-like chill whipped the Duke City, scores of activists and relatives installed a shrine, displayed photos of missing women, set up pink crosses, and conducted an indigenous ceremony in Robinson Park on Central Avenue.

Speakers challenged a narrative of stigmatization flowing from media stories and police reports that emphasize the connection between missing women and drugs/and or prostitution. Six of the women honored April 4 were among the 11 sets of female remains that have been unearthed at a clandestine graveyard on the outskirts of Albuquerque since last February. One of the presumed victims of violence was pregnant.

“She was a beautiful person, always smiling,” said Elsie Montano, god-mother of Veronica Romero, whose remains were identified last week. Montano said years passed between filing the police report about Romero’s disappearance on Valentineā€™s Day 2004 and any official word of her fate. “I don’t think [police] responded very well to anything,” Montano added. “I mean, this was terrorism, actually. These girls have been killed and thrown like garbage.”

Although differences exist in the backgrounds of some victims in Albuquerque and Ciudad JuƔrez, similarities are also evident. In both cities, working-class Latinas went missing and later turned up in mass graves uncovered not by hard-nosed detective work but by a random member of public.

Little is publicly known about the ongoing Albuquerque investigation, which is headed by the Albuquerque Police Department. For example, it is still not publicly known how the 11 women died in what the mass media refers to as the “West Mesa Mystery.”

Several elected officials attended the Albuquerque victims’ memorial, including city councilors Rey Garduno and Ike Benton and Bernalillo County Commissioner Art de la Cruz, who represents the district where the mass graveyard is located.

In an interview with Frontera NorteSur, de la Cruz said he was concerned about initial law enforcement responses to the women’s disappearances in Albuquerque and elsewhere, but was confident police were now working “very, very hard” to get to solve the “mystery.” De la Cruz called the West Mesa saga a “huge issue” that can’t be permitted to happen again.

Several relatives of missing women said they were against reported proposals to discontinue excavations at the crime scene soon. They also vowed to form a relativeā€™s group to press for justice and the apprehension of criminals.

“We’re a little snowball at the top of the hill where we started,” said Dan Valdez, father of Gina Michelle Valdez. “When we get to the base we’re going to be an enormous snowball. Weā€™re not going to stop.”

After delivering a short but powerful speech about her disappeared cousin, an eight-year-old girl perhaps best summed up the sentiments of the people gathered. “And [my cousin] got a son,” the elementary school student said. “And her son’s here too, but he loves her and he misses her. I hope everyone prays for her too.”


This story first appeared April 6 on Frontera NorteSur news service, and also ran in El Paso’s online Newspaper Tree.


Laredo’s Missing

Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa

See also:

Mexico’s Internal “Surge” on the Rio Grande
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, April 2009

From our Daily Report:

JuƔrez femicide cases go before Inter-American Court of Human Rights
World War 4 Report, April 30, 2009

Mexico: narco-war death toll doubles ’07; JuĆ”rez femicide breaks records
World War 4 Report, Dec. 10, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



An Interview with Martin Scheinin, UN Human Rights Rapporteur

by Xan Harriague, Berria, Bilbao

Last spring, Martin Scheinin, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, spent a whole week in Spain and the Basque Country. He analysed Spain’s legislation, its justice system and its tribunals. On March 9, 2009 the results of his analysis were made public before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He showed concern about several issues, including Spain’s definition of “terrorism,” freedom of speech, the practice of holding detainees incommunicado and the methods of the country’s highest court, the Audiencia Nacional. He recommended to the Spanish government changes and specifications to improve laws.

Scheinin, born 1954 in Helsinki, was named Special Rapporteur in 2005. He is also a professor of international law at the European University in Italy, and vice-president of the International Association of Constitutional Treaties. He was also a member of the UN Human Rights Committee during the years of 1997 and 2004 and President of Finland’s Abo Akademi Human Rights Institute from 1998 to 2008.

The Spanish government has nevertheless attempted to discredit the conclusions presented by Scheinin. Javier Garrigues, the Spanish government delegate, spoke in these terms about Scheinin and his report when it was his turn to enter the opposition: “He does not know the reality of the fight against terrorism, or the opinion of the majority of the Spanish population or the basis of the Spanish Constitution… He has made his critiques and complaints that are baseless and that are not tested. He has doubted the impartiality of the judges and the division of powers.”

The Bilbao Basque-language newspaper Berria spoke with Scheinin on March 18. This English translation was provided to World War 4 Report.

The Spanish government says that your definition of terrorism is too limited. What do you think about that?

I believe that the definition of terrorism is well defined in Spanish legislation, but then there are many other derivative crimes. The definition extends itself more and more, and in the end engulfs crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism. I believe that the use of the anti-terrorist legislation is too broad in Spain. Some of the issues treated in the Audiencia Nacional should not be there, such as for example, the kale borroka [violent street protests].

Then, should the government better define the legislation?

Yes, I propose the use of anti-terrorist legislation against the real terrorism. The criminal court is enough to take care of the other crimes, without having to mention terrorism. Kale borroka is a violent act, but not terrorism. They are not the same.

What is your opinion of the politicians imprisoned for being members or collaborators in a “terrorist group”?

It is very difficult for me to know if there is [sufficient] evidence. It is very difficult to know if someone receives orders from ETA, or, as the government says, is part of ETA. I have received more information in the case of political parties and electoral platforms. I believe that the point of view of the government is too broad. It acts against groups that have nothing to do with violence. To have the same political objectives as ETA should not be considered a crime, not a reason to have a political party made illegal, as long as there is no relation with violence.

The Spanish government has answered your report by stating that the terrorism is in the objective, not in the behavior. What is your opinion of this logic?

I am in complete disagreement with that definition… In my opinion the definition of terrorism is always in the behavior. It is a strategy defined by the use of violence against innocent people… If we start defining violence by its political objectives, then any organization opposing the government could be defined as terrorist.

Do you believe that there is freedom of speech in Spain and in the Basque Country?

It is a confusing picture. Spain is an insecure democracy, that does accept many criticisms and points of view. At the same time it is true that the banning of political parties and the closing of newspapers limit freedom of speech. Then it is the judges who decide if these limitations are acceptable or constitute a violation. As far as I’m concerned, the Spanish government has gone too far in some cases.

In your opinion, is the Law of Parties [electoral law] a guarantee of freedom of speech?

It is too broad. It is too open to interpretation and in the end, it is confusing. The Law of Parties can be used against freedom of speech, but I would not say that this is specifically its objective. That would be going too far. Although in my opinion as it is too broad, it causes problems.

What would the Spanish government need to change to guarantee freedom of speech?

I proposed an examination by an expert on Penal Code, in order to improve and clarify the Law of Parties. This expert would analyze how to make it not so weak and to leave less open to interpretation.

The Spanish government has made it clear that they will continue to hold detainees incommunicado, ignoring your recommendations. What do you think of this?

I am not the first one who asks for such a measure. Many experts on human rights have said similar things before me. Most countries don’t have similar measures. Spain is hanging itself with this practice. As long as it is being used, it is debilitating itself in order to defend against complaints and false accusations of torture. I asked for it to be discontinued and, as long as it is being maintained, to improve measures to guarantee the rights of the detainees.

In its defense, Spain has mentioned the legislatures of England and France…

There is a huge difference. Other countries limit the choice of a lawyer, but they can still choose one of confidence… They have some special measures for the first days of detention, but not a system of incommunicado detention. Here lies the biggest difference in respect to Spain. The majority of countries allow for the choosing of a trusted lawyer from the very beginning of the detention, which is one of the most useful measures to avoid police mishandling. That is why Spain’s attitude is much more dangerous than the majority of European countries.

What is your opinion on the return to incommunicado detention by the Ertzaintza [Basque police]?

As I have said before I am against the practice, which should be replaced with other measures. Therefore the news is not good in my opinion.

What do you think about the many torture complaints that are not investigated?

I believe that when there is a torture complaint, the criminal case should be postponed until the complaint gets clarified. I don’t think it is good, the way Spain deals with this issue, investigating the crime in one court and the torture complaint in another. Besides, there are very few cases of torture complaints that are actually investigated.

Is that why you say the Audiencia Nacional can be a problem?

Yes, among other reasons, but there are many more reasons. First of all, only one tribunal deals with too many offenses. They should be better distributed. Second, it has too much power from the very beginning of the investigation, and finally, too much control… The appeal process is limited, as the higher court is the one in charge from the beginning of the investigation… Therefore, the Spanish government should think again about dealing with terrorist crimes through the ordinary judicial means.

How do you reply to the Spanish government’s statement that when you mention the Audiencia Nacional you are entering territory that does not concern you?

What can I say…? The Spanish Government says it is its concern to establish its institutions and legislations, that this is part of its sovereignty. In my opinion, it is mistaken. Speaking as a UN Special Rapporteur, I can give recommendations to any country to modify any law or to install a new institution or to depose another one. I am an expert in international legislation, above all concerning those human rights, and therefore I am in full capacity to do so. I do it in many countries, and Spain is not the exception. In any case, yes, it is clear that Spain is sovereign and I am not reforming the law. I am simply giving some recommendations.

Do you think the Spanish government’s position goes far enough in the improvement of human rights?

It is a position with a double facet: Spain is a reference on many levels, above all, on an international level, in the promoting of dialogue among civilizations. In this field it is doing a good job. But I find problems in regard to the anti-terrorist legislation; it utilizes too many restrictive measures and besides, Spain has institutions that have no place in a democracy.

What is your response to the Spanish government claim that your report is a personal opinion and that it is based on unproved facts?

It is not true. I am an independent expert dedicated to analyze the bases of human rights international legislations. I analyze the current law. In regards to method, I am completely free to obtain information from any source. I should point out that in my report there is nothing that the Spanish government has not previously seen. I have presented my report to them and they have had months to comment on it. Consequently, I am the one who decides what to include or not in the final report.

Is it common that the governments act this way?

Yes, I always receive criticism. From there, it is a question of intensity and style…

In the future, do you believe that Spain will move towards an improvement of human rights?

In general, I perceive a good attitude. Especially since the change in the Government of the USA, many countries have admitted to making mistakes. I hope Spain will move in that direction, too.

What will the UN do after the answer that Spain has given to your report?

I don’t think that the Human Rights Commission will take special measures. In regards to me personally, I will keep a vigilant eye on the case.


This story first appeared March 18 in Berria. It is archived in Spanish translation at


UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism

From our Daily Report:

UN blasts Spain’s repression of Basque political parties
World War 4 Report, Feb. 9, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Al-Bashir and the International Criminal Court

by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

After a thorough examination of the evidence presented by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a panel of three judges has issued an arrest warrant against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. There are seven charges against al-Bashir, including crimes against humanity, murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape, attacks against civilian population and pillaging. The ICC confirms the statements that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been making to UN human rights bodies since early 2004.

The evidence against al-Bashir had been collected at the request of the UN Security Council and had been added to by the High Level Mission established by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2006, chaired by Prof. Jody Williams, the 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate for her work on a ban on landmines. The High Level Mission confirmed that there is a high level of destruction, millions of people are displaced, and a large number of people have been killed. There is a refugee flow to Chad and a danger of the conflict spreading to Chad and the Central African Republic. The High Level Mission also indicated that the responses of the Sudanese government are inadequate. Their report stated that “Mechanisms of justice and accountability, where they exist, are under-resourced, politically compromised and ineffective. The region is heavily armed, further undercutting the rule of law, and meaningful disarmament and demobilization of the Janjaweed, other militias and rebel movements is yet to occur. Darfur suffers from longstanding economic marginalization and underdevelopment, and the conflict has resulted in further impoverishment.”

The indication that the national court system is inadequate is crucial, as the ICC can act only when the national court system is unable or unwilling to prosecute the person in question.

This first ICC arrest warrant against a ruling head of state is an historic moment in the development of world law. There is a distinction between “international law” and “world law” that is made, at least by advocates of world citizenship and some international law professors such as the late Louis Sohn of Harvard Law School. International law is basically treaty law and deals with relations among states. World law is the law of the world community and thus deals with individuals. Most human rights standards, the ICC and the ad hoc courts dealing with former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone can be considered “world law” as they deal with individuals. The ICC deals with an individual not an entire state. However, the standards against which the individual is judged have often been set out in treaties and conventions such as the 1948 Convention on Genocide. Thus there is a close relationship between international law and world law, but it is intellectually useful to make the distinction between the two. World law is likely to grow.

The earlier heads of state to face an international court had already lost power prior to being arrested: Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia; Charles Taylor of Liberia; Radovan Karadzic of the Republika Srpska, the Serbian unit of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Taylor and Karadzic have not yet been tried.

The fate of al-Bashir is uncertain. Only speculation is possible. He originally came to power in June 1989 as the “front man” for the intellectual ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, who became speaker of the parliament. Al-Turabi had the intellectual vision of a new Islamic-based society. Al-Bashir had no ideas, but as a military man with an outgoing personality he fitted the image of a head of state. Al-Bashir and al-Turabi parted ways in February 2001. Al-Bashir’s power base is narrow, mostly security people from the army and the police. My guess is that he will be eased out of power and go into exile in some “safe haven” such as Arabia, which was willing to take in [Idi] Amin Dada of Uganda whose crimes were at least as evident.

In the meantime al-Bashir is still able to make life worse for the people of Sudan. His first move was to expel 13 foreign humanitarian NGOs and to close down one of the more active Sudanese relief agencies. Some observers fear that the situation in Sudan could get worse without al-Bashir, but it is difficult to see how the situation can get worse.

There is no obvious replacement for al-Bashir from within his own camp. However, there is a good deal of political talent in Sudan, if the political structures were more open. There are probably a good number of people who see themselves in the president’s chair once al-Bashir is pushed out. Hopefully, there can be enough international pressure to speed his departure, even if his arrest and transfer to the ICC is unlikely.

Leaders of the African Union and the Arab League are watching the situation closely in a state of near shock. If one of their own can be held responsible for crimes against humanity by the ICC, does this not open a courtroom door for many of them?

After the ICC arrest warrants, things are starting to fall into place. Hassan al-Turabi “for reasons of health” was released from jail in Port Sudan on March 9 and sent by government plane to his home in the suburbs of Khartoum. Al-Turabi has been, since his break with al-Bashir in 2001, in and out of jail but most of the time under house arrest. In January 2009, after suggesting that al-Bashir was guilty of the crimes charged by the ICC and should give himself up to the Court, al-Turabi was re-arrested and placed in a prison in Port Sudan, far from his supporters, many still in government service in Khartoum. Al-Turabi has a good number of people influenced by his thinking in all sections of the Sudanese elite, including among the Darfur insurgencies. His release is a sign that a post-al-Bashir future is being considered, though not yet openly discussed.


This story first appeared March 10 in Toward Freedom.

See also:

Justice & Equality Movement Seeks Power, Not Separatism
by Savo Heleta, Pambazuka News
World War 4 Report, November 2008

An End to Africa’s Reign of Impunity?
by Michael Fleshman, Africa Renewal
World War 4 Report, February 2007

From our Daily Report:

Darfur rebels sentenced to death in Khartoum attack
World War 4 Report, April 25, 2009

International lines drawn in Sudan war crimes warrant
World War 4 Report, March 15, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Daniel Volman and William Minter, Foreign Policy in Focus

At the end of President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony, civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery invoked the hope of a day “when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors.” No one expects such a utopian vision to materialize any time soon. But both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken eloquently of the need to emphasize diplomacy over a narrow military agenda. In her confirmation hearing, Clinton stressed the need for “smart power,” perhaps inadvertently echoing Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a “dumb war.” Even top US military officials, such as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have warned against overly militarizing US foreign policy.

In practice, such a shift in emphasis is certain to be inconsistent. At a global level, the most immediate challenge to the credibility of change in foreign policy is Afghanistan, where promised troop increases are given little chance of bringing stability and the country risks becoming Obama’s “Vietnam.” Africa policy is for the most part under the radar of public debate. But it also poses a clear choice for the new administration. Will de facto US security policy toward the continent focus on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to respond to Africa’s own urgent security needs?

If the first option is taken, it will undermine rather than advance both US and African security. Taking the second option won’t be easy. There are no quick fixes. But US security in fact requires that policymakers take a broader view of Africa’s security needs and a multilateral approach to addressing them.

The need for immediate action to promote peace in Africa is clear. While much of the continent is at peace, there are large areas of great violence and insecurity, most prominently centered on Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. These crises require not only a continuing emphasis on diplomacy but also resources for peacemaking and peacekeeping. And yet the Bush administration has bequeathed the new president a new military command for Africaā€”the US Africa Command, known as AFRICOM. Meanwhile, Washington has starved the United Nations and other multilateral institutions of resources, even while entrusting them with enormous peacekeeping responsibilities.

The government has presented AFRICOM as a cost-effective institutional restructuring and a benign program for supporting African governments in humanitarian as well as necessary security operations. In fact, it represents the institutionalization and increased funding for a model of bilateral military tiesā€”a replay of the mistakes of the Cold War. This risks drawing the United States more deeply into conflicts, reinforcing links with repressive regimes, excusing human rights abuses, and frustrating rather than fostering sustainable multilateral peacemaking and peacekeeping. It will divert scarce budget resources, build resentment, and undercut the long-term interests of the United States.

AFRICOM in Theory and Practice
Judging by their frequent press releases, AFRICOM and related programs such as the Navy’s Africa Partnership Station are primarily focused on a constant round of community relations and capacity building projects, such as rescue and firefighting training for African sailors, construction of clinics and schools, and similar endeavors. “AFRICOM is about helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security,” asserted Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Theresa Whelan in a typical official statement. AFRICOM defenders further cite the importance of integrating development and humanitarian programs into the program’s operations.

Pentagon spokespeople describe AFRICOM as a logical bureaucratic restructuring that will ensure that Africa gets the attention it deserves. They insist AFRICOM won’t set the priorities for US policy toward Africa or increase Pentagon influence at the expense of civilian agencies. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August 2007, Whelan denied that AFRICOM was being established “solely to fight terrorism, or to secure oil resources, or to discourage China,” countering: “This is not true.”

But other statements by Whelan herself, by Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the four-star African-American general who commands AFRICOM, and Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller, his military deputy, lay out AFRICOM’s priorities in more conventional terms. In a briefing for European Command officers in March 2004, Whelan said that the Pentagon’s priorities in Africa were to “prevent establishment of/disrupt/destroy terrorist groups; stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction; perform evacuations of US citizens in danger; assure access to strategic resources, lines of communication, and refueling/forward sites” in Africa.

On Feb. 19, 2008, Moeller told an AFRICOM conference that protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market” was one of AFRICOM’s “guiding principles,” citing “oil disruption,” “terrorism,” and the “growing influence” of China as major “challenges” to US interests in Africa. Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, General Ward echoed the same views and identified combating terrorism as “AFRICOM’s number one theater-wide goal.” Ward barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, or conflict resolution. US official discourse on AFRICOM doesn’t engage with the parallel discussions in the United Nations and the African Union about building multilateral peacekeeping capacity. Strikingly, there was no official consultation about the new command with either the United Nations or the African Union before it was first announced in 2006.

In practice, AFRICOM, which became a fully independent combatant command on Oct. 1, 2008, with its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, is built on the paradigm of US military commands which span the globe. Although AFRICOM features less “kinetic” (combat) operations than the active wars falling under CENTCOM in Iraq and Afghanistan, its goals and programs are more conventional than the public relations image would imply. The Pentagon now has six geographically focused commands, each headed by either a four-star general or admiralā€”Africa (AFRICOM); the Middle East and Central Asia (Central Command or CENTCOM); Europe and most of the former Soviet Union (European Command or EUCOM); the Pacific Ocean, East and South Asia (Pacific Command or PACOM); Mexico, Canada, and the United States (Northern Command or NORTHCOM); and Central and South America (Southern Command or SOUTHCOM), as well as others with functional responsibilities, such as for Special Forces and Nuclear Weapons.

Before AFRICOM was established, US military operations in Africa fell under three different commands. EUCOM handled most of Africa; but Egypt and the Horn of Africa fell under the authority of CENTCOM (Egypt remains under CENTCOM rather than AFRICOM); Madagascar and the island states of the Indian Ocean were the responsibility of PACOM. All three were primarily concerned with other regions of the world that took priority over Africa, and had only a few middle-rank staff members dedicated to Africa. This reflected the fact that Africa was chiefly viewed as a regional theater in the global Cold War, as an adjunct to US-European relations, orā€”in the immediate post-Cold War periodā€”as a region of little concern to the United States. But Africa’s status in US national security policy and military affairs rose dramatically during the Bush administration, in response both to global terrorism and the growing significance of African oil resources.

The new strategic framework for Africa emphasizes, above all, the threat of global terrorism and the risk posed by weak states, “empty spaces,” and countries with large Muslim populations as vulnerable territories where terrorists may find safe haven and political support. This framework is fundamentally flawed. No one denies that al-Qaeda has found adherents and allied groups in Africa, as evidenced most dramatically by the bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. But Islamist ideology has had only limited impact among most African Muslims, and even in countries with extremist Islamist governments or insurgent groups (such as Algeria, Sudan, and Somalia), the focus has been on local issues rather than global conflict. Counterinsurgency analysts such as Robert Berschinski and David Kilcullen have warned that “aggregating” disparate local insurgencies into an all-encompassing vision of global terrorism in fact facilitates al-Qaeda’s efforts to woo such groups. Heavy-handed military action such as air strikes that kill civilians and collaboration with counter-insurgency efforts by incumbent regimes, far from diminishing the threat of terrorism, helps it grow.

Examining the Record: Somalia
The most prominent example of active US military involvement in Africa has been the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Speaking not for attribution at a conference in early 2008, a senior AFRICOM official cited this task force, which has taken the lead in US engagement with Somalia, as a model for AFRICOM’s operations elsewhere on the continent. In October 2002, CENTCOM played the leading role in the creation of this joint task force, designed to conduct naval and aerial patrols in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the eastern Indian Ocean, in order to counter the activities of terrorist groups in the region. The command authority for CJTF-HOA was transferred to AFRICOM as of October 1, 2008.

Based since 2002 at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the CJTF-HOA is comprised of approximately 1,400 US military personnelā€”primarily sailors, Marines, and Special Forces troops. Under a new five-year agreement signed in 2007, the base has expanded to some 500 acres. In addition, the CJTF-HOA has established three permanent contingency operating locations that have been used to mount attacks on Somalia, one at the Kenyan naval base at Manda Bay and two others at Hurso and Bilate in Ethiopia. A US Navy Special Warfare Task Unit was recently deployed to Manda Bay, where it is providing training to Kenyan troops in anti-terrorism operations and coastal patrol missions.

The CJTF-HOA provided intelligence to Ethiopia in support of its invasion of Somalia in December 2006. It also used military facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya to launch air raids and missile strikes in January and June of 2007 and May of 2008 against alleged al-Qaeda members involved in the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia. At least dozens of Somali civilians were killed in this series of air attacks alone, and hundreds wounded. These were only a fraction of the toll of the fighting during the invasion, in which hundreds of civilians were killed and over 300,000 people displaced by mid-2007. By the end of 2008, over 3.2 million people (43% of Somalia’s population), including 1.3 million internally displaced by conflict, were estimated to be in need of food assistance. The US air strikes made US backing for the invasion highly visible.

These military actions, moreover, represented only part of a broader counterproductive strategy shaped by narrow counterterrorism considerations. In 2005 and 2006, the CIA funneled resources to selected Somali warlords to oppose Islamist militia. The United States collaborated with Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia in late 2006, overthrowing the Islamic Courts Union that had brought several months of unprecedented stability to the capital Mogadishu and its surroundings. The invasion was a conventional military success. But far from reducing the threat from extremist groups, it isolated moderates, provoked internal displacement that became one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment, and even provoked the targeting of both local and international humanitarian operations.

In short, Somalia provided a textbook case of the negative results of “aggregating” local threats into an undifferentiated concept of global terrorism. It has left the new Obama administration with what Ken Menkhaus, a leading academic expert on Somalia, called “a policy nightmare.”

Examining the Record: The Sahel
Less in the news, but also disturbing because of the wide range of countries involved in both North and West Africa, is the US military involvement in the Sahara and Sahel region, now under AFRICOM. Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) provides military support to the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) program, which comprises the United States and eleven African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. Its goals are defined on the AFRICOM web site as “to assist traditionally moderate Muslim governments and populations in the Trans-Sahara region to combat the spread of extremist ideology and terrorism in the region.” It builds on the former Pan Sahel Initiative, which was operational from 2002 to 2004, and draws on resources from the Department of State and USAID as well as the Department of Defense.

Operational support comes from another task force, Joint Task Force Aztec Silence (JTFAS), created in December 2003 under EUCOM. JTFAS was specifically charged with conducting surveillance operations using the assets of the US Sixth Fleet and to share information, along with intelligence collected by US intelligence agencies, with local military forces. Among other assets, it deploys a squadron of US Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft based in Sigonella, Sicily.

In March 2004, P-3 aircraft from this squadron and reportedly operating from the southern Algerian base at Tamanrasset were deployed to monitor and gather intelligence on the movements of Algerian Salafist guerrillas operating in Chad and to pass on this intelligence to Chadian forces engaged in combat against the guerrillas. In September 2007, an American C-130 “Hercules” cargo plane stationed in Bamako, the capital of Mali, as part of the Flintlock 2007 exercises, was deployed to resupply Malian counter-insurgency units engaged in fighting with Tuareg forces and was hit by Tuareg ground fire. No US personnel were injured and the plane returned safely to the capital, but the incident signaled a significant extension of the US role in counter-insurgency warfare in the region.

These operations illustrate how strengthening counterinsurgency capacity proves either counterproductive or irrelevant as a response to African security issuesā€”which may include real links to global terrorist networks but are for the most part focused on specific national and local realities. On an international scale, the impact of violent Islamic extremism in North Africa has direct implications in Europe, but its bases are urban communities and the North African diaspora in Europe, rather than the Sahara-Sahel hinterland. Insurgencies along the Sahara-Sahel divide, in Mali, Niger, and Chad, reflect ethnic and regional realities rather than extensions of global terrorism. The militarily powerful North African regimes, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, have very distinct experiences with Islamic extremism. But none have a record of stability based on democratic accountability to civil society. And associating all threats to security in Nigeria with the threat of extremist Islam is a bizarre stereotype ignoring that country’s real problems.

In his November 2007 paper on AFRICOM, cited above, Berschinski noted that the United States and Algeria exaggerated the threat from the small rebel group GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), officially allied with al-Qaeda. A scary, if geographically inappropriate, headline in Air Force Magazine in November 2004, heralded the threat from a “Swamp of Terror in the Sahara.” The emphasis on counterinsurgency, Berschinski argues, has disrupted traditional trade networks and allowed local governments to neglect the need for finding negotiated solutions to concerns of Tuareg areas and other neglected regions. In the case of Mali, Robert Pringleā€”a former US ambassador to that countryā€”has noted that the US emphasis on anti-terrorism and radical Islam is out of touch with both the country’s history and Malian perceptions of current threats to their own security. The specifics of each country differ, but the common reality is that the benefits of US collaboration with local militaries in building counterinsurgency capacity haven’t been demonstrated.

Cases to the contrary, however, aren’t hard to find. In Mauritania, Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz overthrew the elected government in August 2008, leading to sanctions from the African Union and suspension of all but humanitarian aid from France and the United States. US aid to Mauritania for the 2008 fiscal year that was suspended included $15 million in military-to-military funding, as well as $4 million for peacekeeping trainingā€”and only $3 million in development assistance. More generally, the common argument that US military aid promotes values of respect for democracy is decisively contradicted by what resulted in Latin America from decades of US training of the region’s military officers. If democratic institutions are not already strong, strengthening military forces is most likely to increase the chances of military interventions in politics.

Potential Threats
With at least a temporary withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the election of moderate Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as president of the transitional Somali government, there is at least the option of a new beginning in that country. But no one expects any quick solution, with all parties internally divided (including the insurgent militia known as Al-Shabaab) and international peace efforts distracted by multiple agendas. There will be a continuing temptation to continue a narrow anti-terrorist agenda, even if this path is now more widely recognized as self-defeating.

In the region covered by Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara, the conflict in Chad, where the World Bank abandoned efforts to ensure accountability for oil revenues, is still intimately tied with the larger conflict in Darfur to the east, as well as with the legacy of Libyan intervention. Although the United States has deferred to France in active military and political involvement in Chad, it has also supported President Idriss Deby, who has been in power since 1991 and changed the constitution in 2005 to allow himself another term. Despite attacks by rebels on the capital in February 2008, Deby retained control with French military assistance. In northern Niger, uranium resources threaten to provide new incentives for the conflict with the Tuareg minority reignited there and in Mali since 2007. Mali is generally seen as one of West Africa’s most successful democracies, but it’s also threatened by Tuareg discontent which requires a diplomatic rather than military solution.

Of particular strategic importance for the future is Nigeria, where US military concerns of anti-terrorism and energy security converge. As Nigeria specialists Paul Lubeck, Michael Watts, and Ronnie Lipschutz outline in a 2007 policy study, the threat to Nigeria from Islamic extremism is wildly exaggerated in statements by US military officials. In contrast, they note, “nobody doubts the strategic significance of contemporary Nigeria for West Africa, for the African continent as a whole, and for the oil-thirsty American economy.” But the solution to the growing insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta isn’t a buildup of US naval forces and support for counter-insurgency actions by the Nigerian military. The priority is rather to resolve the problems of poverty and environmental destruction, and to promote responsible use of the country’s oil wealth, particularly for the people of the oil-producing regions.

Currently, US military ties with Nigeria and other oil-producing states of West and Central Africa include not only bilateral military assistance, but also the naval operations of the Africa Partnership Station and other initiatives to promote maritime safety, particularly for the movement of oil supplies. In recent years, United States military aid to Nigeria has included at least four coastal patrol ships to Nigeria, and approximately $2 million a year in other funds, including for development of a small boat unit in the Niger Delta. According to the State Department’s budget request justification for the 2007 fiscal year, military aid to the country is needed because “Nigeria is the fifth largest source of US oil imports, and disruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to US oil security strategy.”

In fact, maritime security is a legitimate area for concern for both African nations and importers of West African oil. Piracy for purely monetary motives, as well as the insurgency in the Niger Delta, is a real and growing threat off the West African coast. Yet strengthening the military capacity of Nigeria and other oil-producing states, without dealing with the fundamental issues of democracy and distribution of wealth, won’t lead to security for African people or for US interests, including oil supplies. Likewise, a military solution can’t resolve the issue of piracy in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The threats cited by US officials to justify AFRICOM aren’t imaginary. Global terrorist networks do seek allies and recruits throughout the African continent, with potential impact in the Middle East, Europe, and even North America as well as in Africa. In the Niger Delta, the production of oil has been repeatedly interrupted by attacks by militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). More broadly, insecurity creates a environment vulnerable to piracy and to the drug trade, as well as to motivating potential recruits to extremist political violence.

It doesn’t follow, however, that such threats can be effectively countered by increased US military engagement, even if the direct involvement of US troops is minimized. The focus on building counter-insurgency capacity for African governments with US assistance diverts attention from more fundamental issues of conflict resolution. It also heightens the risks of increasing conflict and concomitantly increasing hostility to the United States.


Adapted from a longer story that appeared March 13 in Foreign Policy in Focus.


US Africa Command

From our Daily Report:

African leaders, civil society reject Pentagon’s Africa Command
World War 4 Report, Feb. 27, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution