Tag Archives: United States

Arms Trafficking on the Rise in Djibouti

Attention was brought this week to the growing issue of arms trafficking in the East African nation of Djibouti, which has seen a spike in recent years. Driving the problem is the instability and ongoing conflict in neighboring countries such as Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. The negative attention comes as Djibouti is trying to establish itself as a developed and economic upstart nation.

Major reasons attributed to the growth of transnational criminal activities like these in Djibouti include widespread incidence of corruption and a lack of transparency in government. The nation’s secret police, for example, are known to allow the smuggling of humans across boarders for a payment of 100 Djiboutian francs (.60 USD). By allowing illicit activities such as human and arms trafficking to go unchecked, Djibouti could see the onset of instability and a negative impact on its national security.

Djibouti’s lack of internal conflicts, its surge of economic investments and its resulting economic growth, have all led to increased stability not present in its neighboring countries.  Driving these positive developments are its access to both the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, resulting in its labeling by some as the “most valuable real estate” in the world.

Another major component of Djibouti’s growth has been the military presence of several major world powers within its border such as the United States, France, China, and Japan. France was the first power to establish a military base there as the former colonial power in the region, although budget constraints will require them to close this in the near future. The United States has a strong military presence in Djibouti as the central location of its African-based operations known as AFRICOM. The only foreign bases of both China and Japan are in Djibouti, and India is looking to build a base there in the coming years. The main interest of these countries in Djibouti is the country’s strategic positioning near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and the Horn of Africa.

There is, however, concern over tension between some of the previously mentioned countries that could create future instability within the small, East African nation. China has a long history of political and military conflict with Japan and India, and it is also currently locked in a trade war with the United States and is a rising challenge to global US hegemony. China has the largest presence in Djibouti, given its large development and business presence, and owns a significant amount of the nation’s debt. To this point, the United States sought reassurance earlier this year by the Djiboutian Foreign Ministry that Djibouti’s relationship to China would not overshadowed their agreement with the United States. Despite these assurances, concern over China’s heavy presence in Djibouti, and its ability to remain a neutral partner, continues to increase.

As Djibouti’s economy and international profile continue to grow, interest in the strategically located African nation will continue to increase from world powers and transnational criminals alike who look to profit from the country’s exponential rise.

Army Requests Funding to Keep up With Russia & China

The U.S. Army has requested that Congress shift close to $378 million from the 2018 fiscal budget to pay for modernization efforts. Among these modernization efforts include programs designed to improve air and missile defense systems, the Army’s long range firing capability, and electronic warfare. This request comes after the U.S. Marine Corps’ top budget officer, Major General John Jansen, went on the record to say that the United States was not prepared to meet the challenge of our most significant strategic competitors.

The U.S. military suffered nearly a decade of atrophy under the Obama administration. Incorrect assessments of the worldwide geopolitical scene led his administration to cap spending and force the military to make difficult decisions regarding which programs to fund and which programs to cut, ultimately leaving the U.S. vulnerable to nations like China and Russia. The most debilitated of the U.S. military branches is the Army. Drained of funds from the war on terror, and little left for modernization efforts, the Army has not been able to keep pace with other aforementioned great powers.

Russia has taken the opportunity to catch up and surpass America’s capabilities in several areas. They have designed a new main battle tank, the T-14, which includes an auto-loader, automated gun turrets, and active defense capabilities. Russia has also claimed to have developed new hypersonic missile systems that can thwart America’s defense systems. The S-400 surface to air missile system also poses a threat to American cruise missiles and warplanes. More astonishingly, Russia claims they have a new camouflage system for troops and tanks that can change colors to match the surrounding environment.

In the past ten years, Russia has invaded two of its neighbors and is currently to trying derail U.S. efforts in the Middle East with the deployment of modernized technology, including the advanced S-400 missile system in Syria. This missile system is being used to prevent the United States from controlling the skies and aiding allied forces in the fight against ISIS.

China is also taking great strides to bolster their military. Advancements in stealth technology, like the new J-20, and anti-satellite missiles both pose a threat to U.S. air and space power. China has also engaged in the construction of artificial islands as a measure to increase strategic control over the South China Sea which is a significant concern for U.S. interests in the region. Furthermore, they have deployed missiles and the new J-20 Stealth Fighter to these islands.

China intends to redefine the region as an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), meaning anyone that wishes to sail or fly through the zone would have to deal with Chinese security measures first. With these islands, missiles, and planes, China now has the power to enforce such a plan. While they have made veiled threats to the U.S. in the past for defying such a zone, their actions spoke louder than words when they recently relocated nuclear capable bombers to the islands from bases in the mainland.

It would be unwise for the United States to not give its military the funding it needs to properly address the imminent challenges posed by great powers. With proper funding, the U.S. will be able to fix the current modernization issues within its military. These expenses are necessary to defend freedom for Americans and U.S. allies.

Germany-Wisconsin Terror Plot

On Wednesday June 13th in Cologne Germany, German officials arrested Sief Allah H. connection for procuring materials needed to create the toxin ricin and launch a deadly attack.

During a search of the suspect’s apartment investigators found over 900 castor bean seeds, the shell of which contains ingredients used to create ricin. Investigators said Sief was working on a “biological weapon” attack in Germany, but do not know yet the extent of the planned attack or what the target may have been.

Prosecutors allege that Sief made the toxin this month in his apartment. Bomb-making materials and chemicals used in the production of ricin were also found.

The suspect has not been identified as a member of any known terrorist organization but did have contacts with potential Jihadists over the internet. German officials did not confirm the report that United States intelligence officials tipped off German investigators about Sief’s possible actions.

The arrest in Germany came the same day a Wisconsin woman was arrested for providing material support to Islamic State. Waheba Issa Dais attempted to recruit individuals to carry out attacks for the Islamic State. The FBI tracked her activities on her computer to her home in Cudahy, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.

The criminal complaint alleges that Dais provided services, personnel, advice and assistance to ISIS. Dias maintained a virtual library of instructions on how to make different explosive devices, including biological weapons.

One of the provided instructions on her website was how to make Ricin and suggested how the individuals that make it go about using it against targets. Dais used multiple social media platforms to carry out her work, hacking into social media accounts, changing pictures and information, and then using these accounts to contact other Islamic State supporters.

These arrests come two months after the foiling an alleged terror plot in France where French authorities in May arrested Mohamed M; a 20-year-old college student from Egypt for “preparing to commit an attack with explosive or ricin”. Mohamed ran an active account in the pro-jihad sphere, this is the second ricin related terror plot to take place within in Europe in the past 3 months.

Neither government confirmed that online library and postings by Waheba Issa Dais were seen by Sief Allah in Germany, still it may be reasonable suspect a possible connection between the foiled ricin plot in Germany and Dais’s blog detailing the ricin making process.  Reports state U.S. intelligence officials tipped of German authorities that Sief was looking at jihadist propaganda.

This cooperation between the German and American intelligence agencies shows the importance of sharing information about potential international terrorist attacks, before attacks can take place. This is becoming more and important with the increase in internet based terror plots and attacks.

North Korean Summit

On Tuesday June 12th, 2018 President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un both met in a historic summit between the two nations. President Trump and Kim Jong Un met around 9 a.m. Tuesday Morning, which was 9pm Monday in Washington.

President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed agreements laying out activities that both sides are going to be partaking in within the coming months. President Trump announced that the United States would freeze upcoming war games with South Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not specify what security assurances would be granted to the North Koreans, but did say that they would not go further then what was agreed to in 2005. The 2005 nuclear deal was issued by negotiators from the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. The statement said that the North would allow inspectors to enter the country and they would stop all production and testing of nuclear bombs.

The White House released the text of a joint statement following the meeting. The joint statement detailed four different points that the two nations acknowledged to work towards, including establishing new relations, discussing the establishment of a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and the complete denuclearization of the Peninsula. The fourth and final point was to commit to recovering POW/MIA U.S. service members lost during the Korean War.

The president’s decision to meet with the North Korean President comes at a time of heightened security and alertness within the region.  Just this last year  North Korea conducted numerous ballistic missile tests while the president and Kim Jong Un traded barbs. This meeting comes in the wake of the North Koreans and South Koreans joining together for the Olympic games and also following the meeting of both South Koreans president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un of North Korea. During the joint Koreas meeting they signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula. There were also potential talks about formally ending the Korean War.

Following President Trump and Kim Jong Un’s historical meeting, many unanswered questions remain. The looming question is where or not Kim Jong Un will follow through with denuclearization, as well as questions about how the U.S. will verify such measures.

Follow up negotiations are supposed to take place with Secretary of State  Mike Pompeo and a high level North Korean official, at the earliest possible date between the two countries. It’s likely that these meetings will begin to lay the groundwork for an actual agreement, and where sharp disagreements between the two sides are most likely to arise.

The United States has hit North Korea with multiple different sanctions over the years to try and attempt a meeting with them. The most recent sanctions were put on by Executive Order 13810. Which states that no property may be transferred to North Korea including but not limited to; construction, fishing, energy, medial, mining, manufacturing, or transportation. Further more the order stated that making any type of contribution would be blocked by the government. These sanctions made it so no one in the United States could do any type of business with the county of North Korea.  By issuing strong sanctions it was one tool that was used to bring Kim Jong Un to the talks in Singapore.

China did state that sanctions relief could be considered for North Korea, following the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. China was one a country that did sign on to the United Nations sanctions against the north. China did state that sanctions can be changed given changes in politics.

It seems at this point that the United States will not be relieving sanctions against the North Koreans while the talks are ongoing. The US does not want to lose the leverage it currently has over the regime.

President Trump and Kim Jong Un both expressed optimism at the conclusion of the summit, with Trump thanking Kim Jong Un for taking first steps to help bring about a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

South China Sea

On Tuesday May 29th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the United States intends to challenge China on the high seas and will use the naval forces to push back on Beijing’s maritime expansion. Secretary Mattis declared that China is “out of step” with international law and is failing to respect international waters.

Allowing nations to have freedom of navigation allows the worlds militaries to navigate the globe freely and conduct joint exercises together to promote strength and unity in the world.

Secretary Mattis went on to say “ But we are also going to confront what we believe is out of step with international law, out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue, and part of this is we maintain a very transparent military activity out in the Pacific.”

On the weekend of May 27th. 2018, China’s military assets took “immediate action” against “unauthorized” United States warships sailing in South China Sea waters that have been claimed by Beijing.  In a statement released by the Chinese defense ministry that two U.S. warships’ entry into China’s territorial waters around the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, is an infringement on China’s sovereignty.

The Chinese military dispatched to conduct identification and verification of the U.S. warships entering the disputed waters.

Department of Defense spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said in a statement, “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region.” With China laying claim to islands that are within international waters it raises vast security issues that nations must face.

China has held de facto control over the Paracel Islands since 1974. However, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to the same area.

Egyptian Authorities Raid Apartment, Killing 6 Linked To Hasm Movement

On March 25th Egyptian authorities raided an apartment building in the Beheira governorate region killing 6 people linked to Hasm, an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that was put on the U.S. Department of Treasuries’ in January of 2018 and the United Kingdom’s (UK) proscribed terrorist organizations list in December of 2017. Several weapons were confiscated during the raid including six explosive devices, and four safes containing ammunition.

Hasm, a group founded by Mohamad Kamal who was a former council member for the Muslim Brotherhood, was constructed after the Brotherhood was ousted from power in 2013. In addition to Hasm, Kamal structured multiple terror cells like Ajnad Misr and Liwa al-Thawra. These groups targeted security forces on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests. But in October of 2016 Kamal was killed during a firefight with security forces in Cairo.

In 2016-17 Hasm carried out multiple attacks on Egyptian security personnel. The group had first announced its creation in July of 2016 after an attack in the Fayoum Governate. Then, in December of 2016 6 police officers were killed due to the explosion of a road side bomb at a police checkpoint. In October of 2017, 16 police officers were killed and 13 others were injured after attempting to raid a “desert hideout” 84 miles west of Cairo.

Hasm’s latest attack occurred on March 24th when the motorcade of Major-General Mostafa al-Nemr, the head security chief of Alexandria, was attacked. The motorcade was traveling through the neighborhood of Rushdi when a bomb under a car exploded killing two soldiers. The interior ministry said Brotherhood leader Bassem Gad was responsible for ordering the attack on al-Nemir’s convoy.

The attack came just days before Egypt’s 2018 presidential election which was held from March 26th-28th. Egypt has been beefing up security nationwide ahead of the election. In March of 2018 the Islamic State (IS) published announcements on a website called Akhbar al-Muslimeen warning the people of Egypt to stay away from election centers. IS also stated that if your home is adjacent to an election center, you should leave it temporarily.

The Islamic State has had relative success in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but on February 9th, 2018, the Egyptian military launched an offensive against the Islamic State and have killed 105 IS fighters since the beginning of the operation. A military spokesman said that there is no time limit for the operation and it will conclude when it achieves its goal(s).

The Egyptian government should continue to target the Hasm Movement as their attacks continue throughout the nation. The designations from the UK and US will help Egyptian government officials in their fight against the movement.

Houthi Fighters Kill 3 People In Hospital

The latest missile attack by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against the Saudi capital of Riyadh occurred March 25th, 2018 when Houthi fighters fired 7 missiles into Saudi territory, three of which aimed at Riyadh. One resident was killed, the first civilian death in Riyadh since 2015.

The conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebel fighters who control northern Yemen. The Iranian backed Houthis fired missiles at Saudi Arabia. In December of 2017 Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital Riyadh, but the missile was intercepted by Saudi air defenses. That was the third missile attack in the month of December.

Saudi Arabia and the Pentagon believe Iran was directly behind the missile launches, Iran denied any involvement.

The Saudi government believes that the missiles are being supplied by Iran. Multiple sources say Iran uses ships to deliver supplies to Yemen, either directly or through Somalia. Once the ships arrive in the region the supplies are then loaded on small fishing boats which are difficult to stop since they are so common in the area.

There is presently a United Nations arms embargo on Yemen, and the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade has been the source of criticism by humanitarian organizations and Saudi allies, including the United States.

The conditions in the war-torn country of Yemen continue to worsen. A UN security council said on March 15th that 22.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, which is an increase of 3 million from 2017. The war has killed an estimated 10,000 people.

But recent unrest over the price of gasoline in Houthi-controlled areas suggest that the economic pressure is having an impact.

On March 18th, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Ibb province of Yemen killed three people and injured others after a quarrel at a gas station. Injured civilians were taken to a local hospital but were followed by Houthi fighters, who kidnapped and killed them. Similar events have occurred in the capitol of Sanaa where reports of Houthi fighters have arrested dozens of people waiting in long lines at gas stations.

Civilians blame the Houthi rebels for the hike in gas prices due to their monopolizing supplies. A cylinder of gas has reached up to 9,000 Yemeni Riyals compared to a cylinder of gas being 1,100 Riyals in unoccupied Houthi areas.

Saudi Arabia launched its intervention to reinstate the government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis, and their allies led by the late former President Ali Abdullah Saleh launched a coup, seizing the Yemeni capital of San’na. The Saudis have lead thousands of air strikes  supporting Yemeni forces, and local militias. But the coalition has made minimal gains and are far from retaking back the capital of Sanaa.

Saudi and Houthi officials have held months of talks in the neighboring country of Oman discussing an end to Yemen’s three-year war. The resolution would begin with a truce to halt fighting and allow for a conclusive peace deal.

The negotiations model previous  mediation efforts by Kuwait in 2016, which ended in failure. Saudi officials including the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman have expressed desires to wrap up the conflict.

 

 

 

Britain To Expel 23 Russian Diplomats Over Ex-Spy’s Poisoning

On March 14th British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain the use of a Russian-made nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found unconscious on a shopping center bench in the city of Salisbury. British authorities confirmed that a nerve agent called Novichok was used on the Skripals. The Skripals remain in a British hospital in critical condition.

This is the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War. May said that the nerve agent used on the Skripals was an “unlawful use of force” against Britain and that “All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers: they have just one week to leave.” May also added that no British officials or members of the Royal family will attend the World Cup, being hosted in Russia this year.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said the United Kingdom’s actions were “unacceptable,” and a “serious provocation.” Moscow is refusing to comply with May’s demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators.

On March 14th U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration “stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.” Haley said Washington agrees with the UK assessment that the Russians are behind the poisoning and demanded a firm international response.

Russian intelligence has a long history of targeting defectors on British soil.

In November of 2006 Russian agents killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko using the radioactive agent polonium-210. Litvinenko was an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB) but fled to Britain, becoming a British citizen and critic of the Kremlin.

Four Russian diplomats were expelled from Brittan over the killing, and Britain broke off ties with Russia’s security services. The Russians responded by expelling four British diplomats. An inquiry set up by the government concluded Mr. Litvinenko’s death was “probably” approved by President Putin.

The UK government has said it will enforce new sanctions as well as begin detaining individuals suspected of ties to hostile state activity at the border. They will also increase checks on private flights and customs coming from Russia, and freeze Russian assets being used to compromise British security.

Leaders from the United States, Germany, and France have joined the UK in a joint statement which holds Russia responsible for the recent nerve attack. The four countries said in a joint statement that “It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said on March 15th that, “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”

Russia is expected to take retaliatory measures. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision will come from President Vladimir Putin and it will “best reflect Russian interests.”

 

U.S. Drone Strike Kills 21 Pakistani Taliban Linked Fighters

On March 7th a U.S. drone fired missiles at a terrorist training camp linked to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Saresha Sultan Shah, Afghanistan, killing 21 Pakistani Taliban-linked fighters. The TTP has ties with, but is distinct from the Afghan Taliban.

Officials said the airstrike killed Gul Mohammad who is a TTP leader in the Bajaur Agency on the Afghan border, Qari Yaseen who officials describe as a “master trainer of suicide bombers,” and the son of TTP leader Fazlullah Khorasani.

While violence from TTP has dropped in recent years, they continue to carry out sporadic large-scale attacks. TTP’s most notorious attacks include the 2014 Peshawar school shooting where 141 students and staff were killed and the 2016 Bacha Khan University attack killing 30 people. In 2017, the TTP had killed 748 civilians and security forces which is down from 3,739 in 2012.

On May 1st of 2010 a Pakistani man named Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Time Square. Shahzad parked a white van on the side of the street and then fled the area, luckily the attempt ended in failure as the bomb did not go off. Qari Hussain Mehsud who is known to be the “top bomb maker” for the TTP took credit for the attempted attack. Five months later in September of 2010 the U.S. State Department put TTP on a list of terrorist organizations, and placed Hakimullah Mehsud whom was the TTP’s leader between 2009-2013 and Wali ur-Rehman who was a senior TTP commander as specially designated global terrorism.

TTP was formed in 2007 under Baitullah Mehsud and mostly operate on the northwest border of Pakistan in the Waziristan region. According to the State Department, TTP is fighting to overthrow Pakistan’s government. Since 2008 the Pakistani government has been fighting the TTP along the border with Afghanistan. In 2014 the Pakistani government conducted peace talks with the TTP to end the on-going conflict where thousands of people had been killed, but failed to reach any kind of agreement.

The failed peace talks does little to eliminate the image of Pakistan having done little to combat the TTP, one of several terrorist organizations that operate within Pakistan amid relative safety. For example, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which has operated openly in the country for years and their leader Saeed Hafiz whom was recently arrested, openly operated out of Pakistan. The group is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and numerous other attacks throughout Afghanistan and India.

Because of Pakistan’s failure to control Terror groups it is at risk of being placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) “grey” list. This could potentially hurt Pakistan’s economy, making it harder for the country to meet its foreign financing needs. This could lead to a downgrade in Pakistan’s debt rating making it difficult to tap into international bond markets.

Placing Pakistan on FATF’s grey list may not have any significant impact to Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan was on this same list between 2012 and 2015 where they were able to complete an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and raise $5 billion from international bond markets. Pakistan’s imports and exports were also able to remain stable, giving little evidence that the grey listing had any significant impact.

Pakistan was able to avoid being put on the grey list back in February during a FATF meeting in Paris, by presenting a proposal on counter terror financing and money laundering. However, there will be another meeting in June and failing to satisfy FAFT could result in Pakistan being put on the black list alongside side North Korea and Iran.

The Pakistani government has let the situation regarding terrorism spiral out of control. Years of ignoring terror groups like LeT and doing relatively little to combat groups like the TTP has put them in the position of being put on FATF’s black list.

Kim Jong-un Open To Negotiations Over Nuclear Weapons

North Korea seeks to open talks between Pyongyang and Washington, according to a South Korean envoy who recently returned from North Korea.

Kim Jong Un reportedly said he is willing to negotiate with the U.S. on abandoning his nuclear weapons, also adding that he would suspend all nuclear and missile testing while such talks are underway.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, said in a statement that the North has said there is no reason to possess nuclear weapons if the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.

The Koreans also agreed to hold a summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un at the border in late April. Before the meeting the countries will install a hotline, for the first time, where both leaders can talk on the phone directly.

This is the first time under Kim Jong Un’s rule that he has discussed relinquishing his countries nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the U.S., following in his father Kim Jong-Il’s footsteps in 2005 when North Korea said they would end their nuclear weapons programs in return for security and energy benefits, but ultimately nothing happened.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the statements saying that “the world is watching” and “May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

President Trump may be right about “false hopes”. North Korea has shown no signs of dismantling their nuclear program, which in January of 2003 North Korea withdrew from the NPT and in February reactivated a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor.

In the past, North Korea has made agreements about disabling nuclear facilities but have never followed through and acted. For example, in 2007 under the Bush administration the North Koreans agreed to disable all their nuclear facilities for 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil by the end of that year. But North Korea ended up missing the December 31st deadline giving no explanation.

Kim Jung Un’s offer to South Korea and the U.S. has come after months of mounting sanctions against his regime, which include relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and tightening oil sanctions, both of which removed advantages won by North Korea in previous rounds of failed talks.  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in mid-January that there is “a lot of evidence that these sanctions are starting to hurt” North Korea.

Observers have credited an increasingly hard line taken by President Trump, who has repeatedly targeted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and has warned the U.S. stood ready to take action if necessary, with the recent change in North Korean policy.

Though Kim Jong Un’s willing to negotiate is a positive sign, the history of North Korea’s past negotiations gives little room for optimism.