Posts Tagged ‘counter-terrorism’

UK prepares to roll out the red carpet for Erdogan

May 11, 2018

Relations with Turkey have improved in past two years despite concerns about human rights

Image may contain: 2 people

By  in Ankara and Henry Mance in Londo
Boris Johnson was at the Chevening estate in March last year when a plane carrying Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minster, was turned away from Dutch airspace because of a row about between Turkey and several EU countries about political campaigning in Europe.
Appalled at the plight of his counterpart, the British foreign secretary called him up and invited him over to his grace-and-favour country house for cucumber sandwiches.

Mr Cavusoglu never took up the offer. But the episode illustrates the stark difference between Turkey’s relationship with Britain and its frayed ties to other western countries, which are critical of what they say is the erosion of Turkish democracy under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On Sunday, Mr Erdogan will go one better than high tea at an English country house with a three-day visit to Britain that will include a meeting with the Queen.

His trip comes in the midst of a Turkish parliamentary and presidential election campaign that will be conducted under a state of emergency and with a key presidential candidate in jail.

Turkish democracy campaigners and British opposition politicians are critical of the visit. Catherine West, a Labour MP, said there were “serious concerns about attacks on journalists, civil society and the unresolved relationship with the Kurdish communities in Turkey and Syria”, and the UK should raise “these urgent matters with Mr Erdogan”.

Despite the controversy surrounding the president, British-Turkish relations have grown closer in the past two years, with the two countries brought together by the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the violent coup attempt in Turkey, which took place just three weeks apart.

Turkish officials feel that their allies in mainland Europe and the US were too slow to condemn the putsch, which saw rogue fighter jets bomb the Turkish parliament and soldiers open fire on civilians in the streets. Britain, by contrast, was quick to speak out.

Human rights in Turkey

In the weeks and months that followed the coup, Ankara’s ties with many western allies grew frosty as they criticised a vast purge of Turkish state institutions that targeted not only the alleged coup plotters but also critical journalists and members of the Kurdish opposition.
Britain has chosen to remain largely silent in public on concerns about the erosion of human rights, the rule of law and, more recently, Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria. UK officials argue that berating Mr Erdogan in public is counterproductive. They say that they raise concerns behind the scenes instead.

This stance is at odds with the tone of the Brexit campaign, when Leave campaigners were scathing about Turkey. Michael Gove, a prominent EU critic, accused Brussels of “appeasement” towards Ankara, warning that “democratic development has been put into reverse under President Erdogan”. Mr Johnson won a free speech competition for a poem that described Mr Erdogan as a “wankerer” with a predilection for goats.

Boosting trade

Trade between Turkey and Britain has been thriving for several years and is currently worth about $16bn. But business executives say that the economic uncertainties of Brexit have led to a new push. Last year, the UK doubled its export finance programme for Turkey to £3.5bn. There are also efforts to increase co-operation on energy, healthcare, manufacturing and defence.
The centrepiece is Britain’s role in helping Mr Erdogan fulfil his dream of building a Turkish-made fighter jet. On a visit to Ankara early last year, Theresa May announced a $100m deal for BAE Systems to provide the technology and expertise for the first phase of development. UK officials hope that Rolls-Royce will also win the contract to built the engines and that a number of smaller companies will also benefit.

Britain has agreed to waive export controls so that Turkey can sell the jet to any country of its choosing — a decision that has raised eyebrows among some Nato allies. “What if Turkey decides to sell these jets to North Korea?” asked one European diplomat, who described the project as “a sign of Theresa May’s desperation to make friends and sign deals after Brexit”.

The British defend the project as vital for creating jobs and sustaining the UK defence industry. “For companies like BAE to remain at the cutting edge of aerospace research, they need big projects,” said a UK trade official. “This is one.”

Working together on counter-terrorism

UK diplomats say that their close relationship with Ankara brings co-operation on intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism, as well as on migration and refugees. It also appears to have secured more favourable treatment for UK nationals in Turkey — in stark contrast to the experience with the experience of jailed German and US detained for months on political charges.
Despite the controversy surrounding Mr Erdogan’s visit, analysts say that UK officials feel they simply cannot afford to turn their back on a country that shares a border with Syria, Iraq and Iran and carries huge strategic importance.

“The British attitude is that, while there are clearly worrying developments in Turkey, engagement is not about an individual,” said Ziya Meral, a researcher at the British Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research. “It is about the fact that Turkey is too big to walk away from.”


Theresa May wants new security treaty with EU next year

February 17, 2018

British PM seeks treaty on post-Brexit military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation

Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich Security Conference.
 Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich security conference. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Theresa May has called for a new security treaty with the European Union that should be up and running next year to ensure military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation after London leaves the bloc.

“The key aspects of our future partnership in this area will already be effective from 2019,” the British prime minister told top European and US officials at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

“The partnership that we need to create is one that offers UK and EU way to combine our efforts to greatest effect where this is in our shared interest,” May said.

She called on her country’s European Union partners not to let “rigid institutional restrictions” get in the way of a wide-ranging post-Brexit security partnership and warned that there will be “damaging real-world consequences” if none is agreed.

May told the conference that “the UK is just as committed to Europe’s security in the future as we have been in the past”.

May said the challenge is to put together a “deep and special partnership” with the EU to retain cooperation. She said: “This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our cooperation and jeopardise the security of our citizens.”

May ruled out a second vote on the country’s membership of the European Union, saying there was no going back on the result of the June 2016 vote.

“We are leaving the EU and there is no question of a second referendum or going back and I think that’s important,” May said.

“People in the UK feel very strongly that if we take a decision, then governments should turn not round and say: no, you got that wrong,” she said when asked if Britain would consider a second referendum.

Ahead of Saturday’s speech, May appeared at a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Berlin at which the two leaders spoke in conciliatory terms about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, with Merkel saying that she was “curious” but “not frustrated” with the British government’s slow progress in outlining its plan.

May’s critics will argue one key problem is her rigid adherence to a red line in the Brexit negotiations of leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, which has made continued cooperation more difficult.


14 Malian soldiers killed in attack on camp: army

January 27, 2018


© AFP/File / by Serge DANIEL | Malian soldiers, part of the joint G5 Sahel military force, sit in a vehicle as they patrol in central Mali on November 2, 2017

BAMAKO (AFP) – Fourteen Malian soldiers were killed and 18 wounded on Saturday in an attack on their camp in Mali’s restive north, the army said, while military sources told AFP jihadists were responsible.Mali’s deteriorating security situation is of growing concern as Al-Qaeda-linked groups mount increasingly deadly attacks on domestic and foreign forces, and the country’s president on Saturday cancelled his visit to an African summit.

“The Malian armed forces were attacked early this morning, around 4am, in Soumpi (Timbuktu region). We have recorded 14 dead, 18 wounded and material damage,” a statement from the military posted on social media said.

 Image result for sahel, africa, map

A military source based in Bamako had told AFP the men were killed “during a cowardly terrorist attack on the Soumpi camp”.

The local official confirmed the death toll, and said five wounded men were transferred to the town of Niafunke for medical treatment.

The Soumpi incident comes two days after 26 civilians including mothers and babies were killed when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Boni, central Mali, according to a UN death toll.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had cancelled planned travel to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to visit Boni on Saturday, he said in a tweet.

The UN Security Council said it “condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”, referring to Thursday’s incident.

– Armed groups under scrutiny –

Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with coalitions of non-jihadist armed groups. But Islamist insurgents remain active, and large tracts of the country are lawless.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a French-drafted statement giving parties to the 2015 peace deal until the end of March to show progress or face sanctions.

The council said there was a “pressing need to deliver tangible and visible peace dividends to the population in the North and other parts of Mali” ahead of elections scheduled for this year.

Mali is one of a string of poor, fragile nations in the Sahel region that have been battered by terror attacks.

The country has joined the so-called “G5 Sahel force” with Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, pooling military efforts to fight the jihadists.

by Serge DANIEL
Image result for French military, Mali, photos
French soldiers in the Sahel

Chinese thought police in constant surveillance of Xinjiang’s minority Muslim Uighurs — Then detention, Mandarin, law, ethnic unity, de-radicalization, patriotism

December 17, 2017

The Associated Press

KORLA, China (AP) — Nobody knows what happened to the Uighur student after he returned to China from Egypt and was taken away by police.

Not his village neighbors in China’s far west, who haven’t seen him in months. Not his former classmates, who fear Chinese authorities beat him to death.

Not his mother, who lives in a two-story house at the far end of a country road, alone behind walls bleached by the desert sun. She opened the door one afternoon for an unexpected visit by Associated Press reporters, who showed her a picture of a handsome young man posing in a park, one arm in the wind.

“Yes, that’s him,” she said as tears began streaming down her face. “This is the first time I’ve heard anything of him in seven months. What happened?”

“Is he dead or alive?”

The student’s friends think he joined the thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of people, rights groups and academics estimate, who have been spirited without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang and over its Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism.

Along with the detention camps, unprecedented levels of police blanket Xinjiang’s streets. Cutting-edge digital surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say. And under an opaque system that treats practically all Uighurs as potential terror suspects, Uighurs who contact family abroad risk questioning or detention.

The campaign has been led by Chen Quanguo, a Chinese Communist Party official, who was promoted in 2016 to head Xinjiang after subduing another restive region — Tibet. Chen vowed to hunt down Uighur separatists blamed for attacks that have left hundreds dead, saying authorities would “bury terrorists in the ocean of the people’s war and make them tremble.”

Through rare interviews with Uighurs who recently left China, a review of government procurement contracts and unreported documents, and a trip through southern Xinjiang, the AP pieced together a picture of Chen’s war that’s ostensibly rooting out terror — but instead instilling fear.

Most of the more than a dozen Uighurs interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that Chinese authorities would punish them or their family members. The AP is withholding the student’s name and other personal information to protect people who fear government retribution.

Chen and the Xinjiang regional government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But China’s government describes its Xinjiang security policy as a “strike hard” campaign that’s necessary following a series of attacks in 2013 and 2014, including a mass knifing in a train station that killed 33. A Hotan city propaganda official, Bao Changhui, told the AP: “If we don’t do this, it will be like several years ago — hundreds will die.”

China also says the crackdown is only half the picture. It points to decades of heavy economic investment and cultural assimilation programs and measures like preferential college admissions for Uighurs.

Officials say the security is needed now more than ever because Uighur militants have been fighting alongside Islamic extremists in Syria. But Uighur activists and international human rights groups argue that repressive measures are playing into the hands of the likes of al-Qaida, which has put out Uighur-language recruiting videos condemning Chinese oppression.

“So much hate and desire for revenge are building up,” said Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur activist in Canada. “How does terrorism spread? When people have nowhere to run.”



The government has referred to its detention program as “vocational training,” but its main purpose appears to be indoctrination. A memo published online by the Xinjiang human resources office described cities, including Korla, beginning “free, completely closed-off, militarized” training sessions in March that last anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.

Uighurs study “Mandarin, law, ethnic unity, de-radicalization, patriotism” and abide by the “five togethers” — live, do drills, study, eat and sleep together.

In a rare state media report about the centers, a provincial newspaper quoted a farmer who said after weeks of studying inside he could spot the telltale signs of religious extremism by how a person dressed or behaved and also profess the Communist Party’s good deeds. An instructor touted their “gentle, attentive” teaching methods and likened the centers to a boarding school dorm.

But in Korla, the institutions appeared more daunting, at least from the outside. The city had three or four well-known centers with several thousand students combined, said a 48-year-old local resident from the Han ethnic majority. One center the AP visited was, in fact, labeled a jail. Another was downtown on a street sealed off by rifle-toting police. A third center, the local Han resident said, was situated on a nearby military base.

While forced indoctrination has been reported throughout Xinjiang, its reach has been felt far beyond China’s borders.

In April, calls began trickling into a Uighur teacher’s academy in Egypt, vague but insistent. Uighur parents from a few towns were pleading with their sons and daughters to return to China, but they wouldn’t say why.

“The parents kept calling, crying on the phone,” the teacher said.

Chinese authorities had extended the scope of the program to Uighur students abroad. And Egypt, once a sanctuary for Uighurs to study Islam, began deporting scores of Uighurs to China.

Sitting in a restaurant outside Istanbul where many students had fled, four recounted days of panic as they hid from Egyptian and Chinese authorities. One jumped out a window running from police. Another slept in a car for a week. Many hid with Egyptian friends.

“We were mice, and the police were cats,” said a student from Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital.

All who returned were intensely grilled about what they did in Egypt and viewed as potential terror suspects, the students said. Many were believed held in the new indoctrination camps, while some were sentenced to longer prison sentences.

The young man from Korla rarely went out in the two years he spent studying Islam in Egypt. He played some soccer — a beloved sport among Uighurs — but wasn’t particularly athletic or popular.

Instead, he kept to himself in an apartment that he kept fastidiously clean, steeped in his studies at the revered Al Azhar University, the 1,000-year-old seat of learning in Sunni Islam. He freely discussed Quranic verses with his Uighur friends but mostly avoided politics, one friend said. He spoke of one day pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative religion.

“He had big dreams,” said the friend who is now hiding in Turkey to avoid being sent to China. “He wanted to be a religious scholar, which he knew was impossible in China, but he also wanted to stay close to his mother in Korla.”

He was fluent in Arabic and but also in Chinese. When they huddled around a smartphone to watch a Taiwanese tear-jerker about a boy separated from his mother, he would be the one weeping first.

When homesickness got to him, he would tell his friends about how his mother doted on him, and about Korla and the big house he grew up in. And when he gets married, God willing, he would say, he’d start a family in that house, too.

“If my wife doesn’t agree, then we don’t marry,” he declared.

He returned to China when he was called back in 2016 and taken away in February, according to three students and a teacher from Cairo. They say they heard from reliable sources in China — but cannot prove — that he died in detention.



Southern Xinjiang, the vast desert basin from where many of the students came, is one of the most heavily policed places on earth.

Deep in the desert’s southern rim, the oasis town of Hotan is a microcosm of how Chen, the Xinjiang party boss, has combined fearsome optics with invisible policing.

He has ordered police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols be built every 500 meters (yards)— a total of 1,130, according to the Hotan government. The AP saw cavalcades of more than 40 armored vehicles including full personnel carriers rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content.

Shopkeepers in the thronging bazaar don mandatory armored vests and helmets to sell hand-pulled noodles, tailored suits and baby clothes.

Xinjiang’s published budget data from January to August shows public security spending this year is on track to increase 50 percent from 2016 to roughly 45 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) after rising 40 percent a year ago. It’s quadrupled since 2009, a watershed year when a Uighur riot broke out in Xinjiang, leaving nearly 200 members of China’s Han ethnic majority dead, and security began to ratchet up.

Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology who tracks Chinese public security staffing levels based on its recruiting ads, says Xinjiang is now hiring 40 times more police per capita than populous Guangdong Province.

“Xinjiang has very likely exceeded the level of police density seen in East Germany just before its collapse,” Zenz said. “What we’ve seen in the last 12 to 14 months is unprecedented.”

But much of the policing goes unseen.

To enter the Hotan bazaar, shoppers first pass through metal detectors and then place their national identification cards on a reader while having their face scanned.

The facial scanner is made by China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a state-owned defense contractor that has spearheaded China’s fast-growing field of predictive policing with Xinjiang as its test bed. The AP found 27 CETC bids for Xinjiang government contracts, including one soliciting a facial recognition system for facilities and centers in Hotan Prefecture.

Hours after visiting the Hotan bazaar, AP reporters were stopped outside a hotel by a police officer who said the public security bureau had been remotely tracking the reporters’ movements.

“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”

The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes, and even voices. In February, authorities in Xinjiang’s Bayingol prefecture, which includes Korla, required every car to install GPS trackers for real-time monitoring. And since late last year, Xinjiang authorities have required health checks to collect the population’s DNA samples. In May, a regional police official told the AP that Xinjiang had purchased $8.7 million in DNA scanners — enough to analyze several million samples a year.

In one year, Kashgar Prefecture, which has a population of 4 million, has carried out mandatory checks for practically its entire population, said Yang Yanfeng, deputy director of Kashgar’s propaganda department. She characterized the checkups as a public health success story, not a security measure.

“We take comprehensive blood tests for the good of the people, not just record somebody’s height and weight,” Yang said. “We find out health issues in citizens even they didn’t know about.”

A biometric data collection program appears to have been formalized last year under “Document No. 44,” a regional public security directive to “comprehensively collect three-dimensional portraits, voiceprints, DNA and fingerprints.” The document’s full text remains secret, but the AP found at least three contracts referring to the 2016 directive in recent purchase orders for equipment such as microphones and voice analyzers.

Meiya Pico, a security and surveillance company, has won 11 bids in the last six months alone from local Xinjiang jurisdictions. It won a joint bid with a DNA analysis company for 4 million yuan ($600,000) in Kargilik and has sold software that automatically scans smartphones for “terror-related pictures and videos” to Yarkent.

Meiya and CETC declined comment.



To monitor Xinjiang’s population, China has also turned to a familiar low-tech tactic: recruiting the masses.

When a Uighur businessman from Kashgar completed a six-month journey to flee China and landed in the United States with his family in January, he was initially ecstatic. He tried calling home, something he hadn’t done in months to spare his family unwanted police questioning.

His mother told him his four brothers and his father were in prison because he fled China. She was spared only because she was frail.

Since 2016, local authorities had assigned ten families including theirs to spy on one another in a new system of collective monitoring, and those families had also been punished because he escaped. Members from each were sent to re-education centers for three months, he told the AP.

“It’s worse than prison,” he said. “At least in prison you know what’s happening to you. But there you never know when you get accused. It could be anytime.”

A document obtained by U.S.-based activists and reviewed by the AP show Uighur residents in the Hebei Road West neighborhood in Urumqi, the regional capital, being graded on a 100-point scale. Those of Uighur ethnicity are automatically docked 10 points. Being aged between 15 and 55, praying daily, or having a religious education, all result in 10 point deductions.

In the final columns, each Uighur resident’s score is tabulated and checked “trusted,” ″ordinary,” or “not trusted.” Activists say they anecdotally hear about Uighurs with low scores being sent to indoctrination.

At the neighborhood police office, a woman who gave her surname as Tao confirmed that every community committee in Urumqi, not just Hebei Road West, needed to conduct similar assessments. She said there were no statistics on how many residents had been deemed “not trusted,” nor were there official procedures to deal with them.

“What is happening is every single Uighur is being considered a suspect of not just terrorism but also political disloyalty,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who is studying how Chinese police are using technology to track political dissidents as well as Uighurs.

This month, Xinjiang announced it would require every government employee in the region to move into a Uighur home for a week to teach families about ideology and avoiding extremism.

What pains most, Uighurs abroad say, is the self-imposed barrier of silence that separates them from loved ones, making efforts to say happy birthday or find out whether a relative is detained risky.

When Salih Hudayar, an American Uighur graduate student, last called his 70-something grandfather this summer, he spoke in cryptic but reassuring tones.

“Our phones will not work anymore,” his grandfather said. “So, don’t try calling and don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine as long as you’re all fine.”

He later heard from a cousin in Kyrgyzstan that his grandfather had been sent to re-education.

A Uighur student who moved to Washington following the crackdown this summer said that after his move, his wife, a government worker still in Urumqi, messaged to say the police would show up at her home in 20 minutes. She had to say goodbye: after that she would delete him permanently from her contacts list.

A month later he received calls on WhatsApp from a man who introduced himself as Ekber, a Uighur official from the international cooperation office of the Xinjiang regional public security bureau, who wanted him to work for them in the U.S. — and warned him against saying no.

“If you’re not working for us then you’re working for someone else. That’s not a road you want to take,” he snapped.

A week after that, he couldn’t help himself placing one last call home. His daughter picked up.

“Mom is sick but she doesn’t want me to speak to you. Goodbye,” she said.



For the past year, Chen’s war has meant mass detentions, splintered families, lives consumed by uncertainty. It has meant that a mother sometimes can’t get an answer a simple question about her son: is he dead or alive?

A short drive from Korla, beyond peach plantations that stretch for miles, the al-Azhar student’s mother still lives in the big house that he loved. When the AP arrived unannounced, she said she had not received any court notices or reasons about why her son and his father were suddenly taken months earlier. She declined an interview.

“I want to talk, I want to know,” she said through a translator. “But I’m too afraid.”

AP reporters were later detained by police, interrogated for 11 hours, and accused of “illegal reporting” in the area without seeking prior permission from the Korla government.

“The subjects you’re writing about do not promote positive energy,” a local propaganda official explained.

Five villagers said they knew authorities had taken away the young student; one said he was definitely alive, the others weren’t sure.

When asked, local police denied he existed at all.,-thought-police-instill-fear


Africa, Europe seek to boost Sahel anti-terror force

December 13, 2017


© AFP/File / by Daphné BENOIT, Jérôme RIVET | The world’s newest joint international force, the five-nation G5 Sahel, has already held operations with France’s regional Barkhane force

PARIS (AFP) – France’s Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday hosted a group of African and European leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, to drum up support for a new counter-terrorism force in the terror-plagued Sahel.Two years in the planning, the force brings together troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a desert region the size of Europe.

Former colonial power France is currently leading counterterrorism operations there through its 4,000-strong Barkhane force, but is keen to share the burden as its military is engaged on various fronts.

The ambitious goal is to have 5,000 local troops operational by mid-2018, wresting back border areas from jihadists including a local Al-Qaeda affiliate.

But Macron — who has had a busy week of diplomacy after a climate summit on Tuesday — has expressed frustration at delays, with the first mission only taking place last month in the volatile border zone between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

“It’s an initiative that’s getting more powerful, but speed is a problem,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly told RFI radio.

“We have to go faster,” she said. “The objective is to be able to move forward faster on financing and the military structure.”

The five Sahel countries are among the poorest in the world, and funding will be high on the agenda as their presidents join Macron at a chateau in Celle-Saint-Cloud outside Paris.

Officials from oil-rich Saudi Arabia — which may confirm a $100 million (85 million euro) contribution, according to the French presidency — are notably on the guest list.

UAE officials are also attending along with the Italian and Belgian prime ministers and representatives of the European Union, African Union and United States.

Priority number one is to re-establish law and order in the border zone where several hundred soldiers, backed by French troops, carried out last month’s debut mission.

Militants have mounted repeated attacks in recent months, including an assault in Niger on October 4 which killed four US soldiers and another two weeks later in which 21 Niger troops died.

In August, gunmen stormed a restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, killing 19 including foreigners.

– Strategic region –

The G5 force is set to work alongside Barkhane troops and the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali — the most dangerous in the world, having lost 90 lives since 2013.

The International Crisis Group described the G5 force as a European efforts to “bring down the expense of their overseas operations by delegating them partially to their African partners”.

“The Sahel is politically and economically strategic, especially for France and Germany, both of which view the region as posing a potential threat to their own security and as a source of migration and terrorism,” it added in a report.

Wednesday’s talks are the latest effort by Macron to forge an influential role on the world stage, a day after he hosted an international climate summit.

They are designed to lay the groundwork for a summit in February, likely in Brussels, focused on raising funds for the G5 force.

The EU has so far pledged 50 million euros ($59 million) for the force and France another eight million, while each of the African countries is putting forward 10 million euros.

The United States has meanwhile promised to contribute a total $60 million.

But this leaves a serious shortfall, with France hoping to raise at least 250 million euros in the short-term, rising eventually to 400 million euros.

The arid Sahel region has become a magnet for Islamic militants since Libya descended into chaos in 2011.

In 2012, Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists overran the north of neighbouring Mali, including the fabled desert city of Timbuktu.

France intervened in 2013 to drive the jihadists back but swathes of central and northern Mali remain wracked by violence, which has spilled across its borders.

by Daphné BENOIT, Jérôme RIVET

Pakistan Air Force threatens to shoot down US drones

December 9, 2017


A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone takes off from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan March 9, 2016. (File photo by Reuters)
ISLAMABAD: The head of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, has warned that US drones violating the country’s airspace will be shot down, marking a significant shift in Pakistan’s US policy.
Aman was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Air Tech Conference and Techno Show in Islamabad on Thursday evening.
“We will protect the sovereignty of the country at any cost,” he said, adding that Pakistan is working on its own unmanned drones and that a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be manufactured in the next 18 months.
The US has been carrying out drone strikes on militants inside Pakistani territory since June 2004, initially from air bases inside Pakistan. When relations soured in 2011, the US was forced to shift its drone bases across the border to Afghanistan.
Successive Pakistani governments have publicly condemned the drone strikes, but experts have said that there was a tacit agreement in place between America and Pakistan to allow the strikes to take place.
Sen. Nuzhat Sadiq, chairperson of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that Pakistan has effectively eliminated terrorists and militants from its territory through various military operations so there is no need for US drones now.
“It is the policy of the government not to allow any more US drone strikes on our soil, and the air chief has effectively conveyed it to the Americans,” she said.
Sadiq said that Pakistan is a nuclear state and could not allow any country to violate its sovereignty. “We are on a strong footing now, and introducing viable changes in our foreign policy toward the US,” she said.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US has carried out a total of 429 drone strikes inside Pakistan since June 2004, killing 2,938 people, including civilians.
The most recent strike inside Pakistani territory was on Sept. 15 in Kurram Agency, on the border with Afghanistan, in which three people were killed.
Aziz Ahmad Khan, an expert on foreign affairs and former diplomat, told Arab News that Pakistan would not need to shoot down any US drones as the “matter has already been settled with the Americans in some recent high-level meetings.”
“The number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has already reduced significantly and we hope to get rid of this counterproductive menace forever,” he added.
Retired Gen. Talat Masood, a defense analyst, told Arab News that Pakistan has explained to the US that Pakistan will no longer be used as a base for terrorist attacks in neighboring countries as it has eliminated all the militants’ “safe havens.”
“The air chief’s statement is a message to the US that it should cooperate with Pakistan to fight against militancy, instead of carrying out unilateral drone attacks in Pakistan,” he said.
He warned, however, that the government should be prepared for repercussions from the US, as “the superpower is not going to digest this change in policy easily.”

France Seeks Funding at UN Monday For African Sahel Anti-Terror Military Force

October 30, 2017



© Pascal Guyot, AFP | Malian soldiers patrol with French soldiers involved in the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in March 2016 in Timbamogoye.


Latest update : 2017-10-30

France is facing a tough diplomatic battle to convince the United States to lend UN support to a counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel region, where insurgents have killed UN peacekeepers and US soldiers.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will lead a UN Security Council meeting on Monday that will look at ways of shoring up the G5 Sahel force set up by Burkina FasoChadMaliMauritania and Niger.

France wants donors to step up, but is also looking to the United Nations to offer logistic and financial support to the joint force — which is set to begin operations in the coming days.

The United States however is adamant that while it is ready to provide bilateral funding, there should be no UN support for the force.

“The US is committed to supporting the African-led and owned G5 Joint Force through bilateral security assistance, but we do not support UN funding, logistics, or authorization for the force,” said a spokesperson for the US mission.

“Our position on further UN involvement with respect to the G5 Sahel joint force is unchanged.”

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

>> Video: Meet the French troops hunting jihadists in Sahel

Earlier this month, militants linked to the Islamic State ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has lost 17 peacekeepers in attacks this year, one of the highest tolls from current peace operations.

Four options

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come out in favor of multilateral backing, writing in a recent report that the establishment of the G5 force “represents an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Guterres has laid out four options for UN support, from setting up a UN office for the Sahel to sharing resources from the large UN mission in Mali.

In response, US Ambassador Nikki Haley wrote to Guterres this month to reaffirm the US “no” to UN involvement, officials said. The United States is the UN’s biggest financial contributor.


The battle over UN backing for the Sahel force is shaping up as Haley is pushing for cost-saving measures after successfully negotiating a $600-million cut to the peacekeeping budget this year.

After leading a Security Council visit to the Sahel last week, French Ambassador Francois Delattre said most countries on the council want the United Nations to help.

“The key question now is not about the relevance of the G5 Sahel force, nor the need to support it, but it is about the best way to convey this support,” said Delattre.

A “mix of both multilateral and bilateral support” is needed, he said.

A long list of gaps

The price tag for the G5 force’s first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

So far, only 108 million euros have been raised, including 50 million euros from the five countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 16.

“UN logistical support could make a big difference,” said Paul Williams, an expert on peacekeeping at George Washington University.

“To become fully operational, the force needs to fill a long list of logistical and equipment gaps,” he said — from funding for its headquarters to intelligence-sharing and medical evacuation capacities.

Williams said US reservations were not just about cost, but also about the mission’s operations, which Washington sees as ill-defined.

The G5 is “a relatively blunt military instrument for tackling the security challenges in this region, which stem from a combination of bad governance, underdevelopment and environmental change,” he explained.

“At best it might limit the damage done by some of the criminal networks and insurgents, but even then, its gains will not be sustainable without adequate funding.”




France, U.N. Want Sahel Army To Fight Terrorism But U.S. Not Eager To Pay

October 30, 2017

Plan for 5-nation force in the Sahel strongly backed by France and Italy but funding resisted by Trump administration

Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October.
 Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Unprecedented plans to combat human trafficking and terrorism across the Sahel and into Libya will face a major credibility test on Monday when the UN decides whether to back a new proposed five-nation joint security force across the region.

The 5,000-strong army costing $400m in the first year is designed to end growing insecurity, a driving force of migration, and combat endemic people-smuggling that has since 2014 seen 30,000 killed in the Sahara and an estimated 10,000 drowned in the central Mediterranean.

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The joint G5 force, due to be fully operational next spring and working across five Sahel states, has the strong backing of France and Italy, but is suffering a massive shortfall in funds, doubts about its mandate and claims that the Sahel region needs better coordinated development aid, and fewer security responses, to combat migration.

The Trump administration, opposed to multilateral initiatives, has so far refused to let the UN back the G5 Sahel force with cash. The force commanders claim they need €423m in its first year, but so far only €108m has been raised, almost half from the EU. The British say they support the force in principle, but have offered no funds as yet.

Western diplomats hope the US will provide substantial bilateral funding for the operation, even if they refuse to channel their contribution multilaterally through the UN.

France, with the support of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and regional African leaders, has been pouring diplomatic resources into persuading a sceptical Trump administration that the UN should financially back the force.

In an attempt to persuade the Americans, Guterres warned in a report to the security council this month that the “region is now trapped in a vicious cycle in which poor political and security governance, combined with chronic poverty and the effects of climate change, has contributed to the spread of insecurity”.

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Terror War: Battle in the African Sahel Comes Out of The Shadows

October 30, 2017
 OCTOBER 30, 2017 00:16


US soldiers fight alongside French forces and locals in Niger

A US special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect in Diffa, Niger.

A US special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect in Diffa, Niger.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 4, four United States servicemen and five soldiers from Niger were killed in a battle with an estimated 50 members of an ISIS affiliate.

The US casualties are raising eyebrows in Washington, with senators reportedly “shocked” and “stunned” to find that the US has more than 1,000 personnel in Niger and neighboring countries.

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As controversies swirl, the US is being called upon to support UN backing for more counter- terrorism operations led by France in the Sahel, the area between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannas region to the south.

According to a March document from the US Government Accountability Office, the US has greatly expanded its security presence abroad, especially in Africa, since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The US government has engaged in numerous efforts to build the capacity of foreign partners to address security-related threats,” the Government Accountability Office said, claiming it “identified 194 Department of Defense security cooperation and state security assistance efforts” that address security-related threats. A number of these programs are tailored specifically to confront the growing threat of terrorism in countries that border the Sahel. These include countries such as Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, which borders Somalia.

Between 1997 and 2012, the US provided training to 215,000 personnel from states in Africa. Since the establishment of an Africa Command in 2007, the focus has increasingly shifted to fighting terrorism alongside peacekeeping. The long list of US-supported programs include the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, the US Army’s African Land Forces Engagement Summit, a specific program for Support for Counterterrorism Operations in Africa, Peace Keeping Operations Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, a “rapid response partnership” and a series of regional counterterrorism partnerships.

In the Sahara, the US “assists partners in West and North Africa to increase their immediate and long-term capabilities to address terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism,” according to the State Department. This includes efforts to “contain and marginalize” terrorist groups as well as “disrupt efforts to recruit, train and provision terrorists and extremists” and counterterrorist groups that seek to establish “safe havens.”

It was during one of these types of missions in October that something went awry. The 12 US soldiers were supposed to be part of an advise-and-assist mission with 30 soldiers from Niger.

Just before a raid targeting a terrorist commander, the target crossed into Mali and the joint US-Niger team, instead, went to search his abandoned camp. According to an October 23 US Defense Department press conference by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the soldiers drove 85 km. north from the capital of Niamey to the village of Tongo Tongo. The village is just across the border from the Reserve Partielle de Faune D’Ansongo-Menake in Mali and the Sahel reserve in Burkina Faso.

The US-Niger forces were ambushed after meeting with locals at a village. The enemy was well prepared with heavy machine guns, RPGs and driving on “technicals,” or trucks with machine guns mounted on the back.

The Americans radioed for assistance and an unarmed drone arrived overhead. Two hours after the battle began, French Mirage jets also came to assist. Eventually, the survivors were evacuated by the French military.

Despite efforts to downplay the incident, the picture that is painted is of a large shadow war on terrorism in Africa that goes relatively unreported in Western media. The ambush conjures up images of the battle of Black Hawk Down in 1993 in Somalia and the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya, which led to the death of 19 and four Americans, respectively. Both attacks also led to political discussions and policy changes in Libya and Somalia, both of which are still plagued by terrorism. In mid-October, more than 300 people were killed in an attack in Mogadishu. Another 23 were murdered in an attack on October 28.

Niger is an example of a wider problem affecting the region. According to the US State Department, there are numerous terrorist groups in Niger, including Boko Haram, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and ISIS. “Niger’s long borders and areas of harsh terrain made effective border security a challenge, specifically in the north, along the border with Algeria, Libya, and Mali.”

These ungoverned spaces allow AQIM and other groups to transit throughout the Sahel and Sahara. Considering how ISIS exploited the breakdown in Syria and Iraqi states to spread quickly in 2014, the role of ISIS among these other groups’ points to a worrisome phenomenon.

The danger of these groups sometimes goes unrecognized until it is too late. In 2012, Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, wrote in The New York Times, “There is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today.”

She urged against the US being drawn into a Nigerian war on terror because “placing Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would… make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.” Five years later, Boko Haram is still making headlines with its massacres, including recent reports on how it straps suicide bombs to girls.

Now the US is debating a French-drafted UN Security Council resolution that would give backing to a multinational force to fight terrorism. This is called the G5 Sahel force, which has existed since 2014 and consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Already there are 4,000 French soldiers in and around Niger fighting terrorism alongside 35,000 African partner troops, according to Dunford.

The G5 force builds upon the work of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership which was created in 2005 with 11 countries in the same region, with a broader membership that included Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Cameroon.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly has encouraged the US to support the G5 force. These forces are underfinanced.

According to Reuters, the $490 million budget is only 25% funded.

As ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq, it is not clear if Africa will emerge as a growing base of fighters. However, the northern part of the continent is fertile ground for similar groups. It is a vast area that unites various terrorist groups from different backgrounds.

Although not directly linked to the Sahel, recent flare-ups in fighting in the Sinai and battles between Egyptian police and extremists in Egypt’s Western Desert are connected to this global battle. It’s a message that what happens in Niger affects Jerusalem as much as it does Paris and other states in between.


Tillerson to attend Saudi-Iraqi cooperation meeting

October 21, 2017

US Secretary of State says he has low expectations that the Qatar crisis will be resolved anytime soon

Image Credit: AFP
Rex Tillerson

Published: 15:47 October 20, 2017Gulf News


Washington: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs Friday for the Gulf where he will take part in the first meeting of a Saudi-Iraqi coordination council in Riyadh.

Gulf News broke the story in April about the coordination council which aims to boost cooperation in various sectors including oil, economy, trade, intelligence and counter-terrorism.



Iraq is hoping Saudi Arabia will foot the bill of Mosul’s reconstruction after a Iraqi forces liberate the city from Daesh control.

In 2015, following a 25-year break, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad and in February Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir made a rare visit to Baghdad.

Analysts say that Riyadh, and even Abu Dhabi, are working to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold, after being dominated by Iran after the ouster of Saddam Hussain by American forces in 2003.

Iraq’s relations with Gulf countries have been sour since the First Gulf War when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

On the issue of the crisis with Qatar, Tillerson said his expectations of resolving the issue were low.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran.

The sides have been at an impasse since then, despite efforts by Kuwait to mediate the crisis.

US President Donald Trump, after initially appearing to support the effort to isolate Qatar, has called for mediation and recently predicted a rapid end to the crisis.

But Tillerson indicated there has been little movement.

“Our role is to try to ensure lines of communication are as open as we can help them be, that messages not be misunderstood,” he said.

“We’re ready to play any role we can to bring them together but at this point it really is now up to the leadership of those countries.”

Besides the Gulf dispute, Iran, the conflict in Yemen and counter-terrorism also are on the agenda in the Gulf, the State Department said.