Increased U.S. spending, especially at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, reflects Africa’s growing importance to counter-terrorism efforts
The Pentagon has begun a burst of spending in Africa, expanding its main base on the continent and investing in air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades as the U.S. military deepens its footprint in a region with a rising threat of Islamist terrorism.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures, detailed in unclassified federal documents, demonstrate Africa’s increasing importance to U.S. military and counter-terrorism operations as the war in Iraq has ended and American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
By far the most significant expansion is occurring at Camp Lemonnier in the deeply impoverished nation of Djibouti, a sleepy backwater on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, just north of Somalia. The sprawling base, built out of a onetime outpost of the French Foreign Legion, has been the Pentagon’s primary facility in Africa for a decade.
Defense officials last month awarded $200 million in contracts to revamp the base’s power plants and build a multistory operations center, aircraft hangar, living quarters, gym and other facilities on a sun-scorched 20-acre site next to the tiny country’s only international airport (with which it shares a runway).
The projects are part of $1.2 billion in planned improvements over the next 25 years that will accelerate Camp Lemonnier’s transformation from a makeshift installation where a few hundred Marines once slept in tents into an enduring 600-acre base that now houses about 4,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors.
„Africa is front and center now for the Pentagon, so that means Lemonnier is front and center,“ said Rudolph Atallah, former counter-terrorism director for Africa at the Defense Department and now chief executive of White Mountain Research, a security consulting company.
The changes come as U.S. officials grapple with the threat posed by Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa’s impoverished Sahel region. The U.S. commando raids last month that nabbed a long-sought terrorism suspect in Libya and tried but failed to capture a senior figure in Somalia’s Shabab militant organization underscore the Pentagon’s growing focus on Africa, including an increasing reliance on elite special operations forces.
Though most of the troops at Camp Lemonnier are conventional forces specializing in training African militaries, several hundred special operations troops also are based there, occupying a compound with its own security perimeter. Officials declined to say whether Djibouti-based troops were involved in either raid last month, but the base has quietly evolved into what Pentagon planning documents call „the backbone“ of covert missions across Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and is one of the military’s most important bases for drone missions in Somalia and Yemen.
Military officials declined to elaborate on the role of the special forces, citing security, but their numbers at Camp Lemonnier are likely to grow. Late last year, the first special operations rapid-response team was established at the base, made up of Green Berets from the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group.
When the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked in September 2012, leaving four Americans dead, lawmakers criticized Pentagon officials for a lack of crisis-response capacity in Africa. But there hasn’t always been consensus on the role of Camp Lemonnier, which U.S. troops began using in 2002 primarily as a base for civil affairs and humanitarian missions.
Now Pentagon planners see the base as the center of a constellation of U.S. military sites across Africa, including small facilities in Manda Bay, Kenya; Entebbe, Uganda; and the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
In September, the Pentagon awarded Houston-based Kellogg, Brown & Root a contract for support services at Manda Bay. Navy engineers recently extended the runway there — on a mangrove-covered island near Somalia — to allow it to handle larger aircraft, such as C-130 cargo planes.
In July, a Texas company won a $49-million contract to provide air support, including medevacs, cargo flights and air drops, across a vast territory comprising 19 countries, including those where a small team of U.S. advisors is helping in the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Armymilitia. The aircraft will be based in Burkina Faso, according to contract documents, which say the flights could run through June 2017.
Officials rarely discuss the smaller sites publicly, but in testimony prepared for Congress last year retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, former head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, said, „We have strategic locations that provide a hub-and-spoke operational reach that covers the continent.“
Ham described Camp Lemonnier as „a key location for national security and power projection.“ In addition to the 20-acre site to be occupied by conventional units, the Navy is building a $228-million special operations compound at the center of the base, near the site of a new aircraft logistics area. The elite units currently operate out of temporary facilities that „lack sufficient capability and capacity to meet growing requirements and increased staff,“ according to planning documents provided to Congress.
The new compound, which includes a two-story operations building, a three-story barracks and a hangar to house two aircraft, will hold 700 personnel at capacity, the plans say.
Starting in 2006, when neighboring Somalia was taken over by Islamist clerics who were believed to be sheltering Al Qaeda militants, lawmakers and Pentagon leaders increasingly saw the utility of a forward base in Djibouti.
„The idea was a small footprint, but that has dramatically changed over time,“ Atallah said.
The growth of U.S. operations has sometimes rankled those sharing the sole runway at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. U.S. F-15 fighter jets, C-130 transport planes and refueling aircraft compete for space with commercial airliners from Europe and East Africa, French military planes and Japanese aircraft conducting counter-piracy patrols off the Somali coast.
In December, after a U.S. drone had a hard landing on the runway, Djiboutian officials demanded a halt to drone flights from the airport because it „interrupted business and made the Air Frances of the world nervous,“ said a congressional source familiar with the incident.
The U.S. military temporarily moved a growing fleet of Predator and Reaper drones to a former French Foreign Legion airstrip at Chabelley, about eight miles southeast of Camp Lemonnier. According to documents provided to Congress, the military has spent at least $13 million to upgrade the Chabelley airfield, including building a storage area for munitions to carry out „kinetic operations“ — meaning drone strikes.
The Pentagon now pays $38 million annually to lease the base from Djibouti, a former French colony with barely 1 million inhabitants.
Privately, some military officials and lawmakers grumble about the cost, but even amid calls for tightening the Pentagon’s budget, Congress has largely recognized the base’s strategic value.
In a report accompanying the 2014 Pentagon budget, the House Armed Services Committee said it „believes that the national security interests of the United States are supported by the enduring presence at Camp Lemonnier.“
Source: Los Angeles Times
The bodies of 87 migrants who died of thirst attempting to cross the Sahara desert have been found in Niger. The group of mainly women and children were stranded after their vehicle broke down, leaving them to walk 12 miles in the scorching sun to reach a well.
„The bodies were decomposed, it was horrible,“‚ said Almoustapha Alhacen, one of the rescue workers on the scene. „We found them in various places within a radius of 20km, and in small groups. Some were lying under trees, others exposed to the sun. Sometimes we found a mother and her children; some of the bodies were children alone.“
The group, who were from Niger, are believed to have begun their perilous journey across the desert in late September. They died in October, six miles from the border between Niger and Algeria, when one of their two vehicles broke down and the other left them stranded as it headed off looking for new parts.
Niger security sources told the local press that 21 had survived, including two who had walked 52 miles across the desert to Arlit in northern Niger, and 19 who reached the town of Tamaresset in southern Algeria only to be repatriated back to Niger.
„This is human trafficking, I’m afraid,“ said Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, a uranium mining town about 50 miles from where the bodies were found. „They were probably heading to the Mediterranean to try to go to Europe, or else to Algeria to work.“
Rescue workers who found the bodies, which include 32 women and 48 children, have said the group may have included a party from an Islamic madrasa school, given the large number of children and an elderly man who appears to have been an Islamic teacher among the victims .
Authorities in Niger – a vast landlocked country that straddles the desert between north and sub-Saharan Africa – first learned of the tragedy two weeks ago when the bodies of a further 35 people, believed to be from the same group, were found.
The plight of migrants from Africa and the Middle East has been under the spotlight after a series of tragedies in which large numbers have died attempting to reach Europe, including 365 who died in Lampedusa earlier this month when a boat capsized near the Italian island.
Tens of thousands of west African migrants, many of whom have paid as much as $3,000 (£1,900) to be taken across the desert from Niger to North Africa, arrive in Europe by sea each year, according to the United Nations.
– A documentary which is exploring the impact of racism on a global scale, as part of the season of programmes marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the British Empire. Beginning by assessing the implications of the relationship between Europe, Africa and the Americas in the 15th century, it considers how racist ideas and practices developed in key religious and secular institutions, and how they showed up in writings by European philosophers Aristotle and Immanuel Kant.
Solicited, then rejected by The New York Times – Quickly share before it’s taken down!!!
Blumenthal explained how The New York Times commissioned the 11-minute video, but after the paper’s editors saw it, refused to publish it:
I was asked to submit something by The New York Times op docs, a new section on the website that published short video documentaries. I am known for short video documentaries about the right wing in the US, and extremism in Israel. They solicited a video from me, and when I didn’t produce it in time, they called me for it, saying they wanted it. So I sent them a video I produced with my colleague, David Sheen, an Israeli journalist who is covering the situation of non-Jewish Africans in Israel more extensively than any journalist in the world.
We put together some shocking footage of pogroms against African communities in Tel Aviv, and interviews with human rights activists. I thought it was a well-done documentary about a situation very few Americans were familiar with. We included analysis. We tailored it to their style, and of course it was rejected without an explanation after being solicited. I sent it to some other major websites and they have not even responded to me, when they had often solicited articles from me in the past.
Blumenthal, author of the bestselling and widely promoted 2009 book Republican Gomorrah, also spoke about the difficulty he has had getting any mainstream media attention for his new book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Just like this video, Blumenthal’s new book offers an unflinching look at the racist reality of Israel that America’s establishment media simply does not have the guts to confront.
USA must be held to account for drone killings in Pakistan
© Amnesty International
Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the USA to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account
New evidence indicates that the USA has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a major new report released today.
The report, “’Will I be next?’ US drone strikes in Pakistan”, is one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the US drone program from a human rights perspective.
It documents recent killings in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas and the almost complete absence of transparency around the US drone program.
“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the USA to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.
“What hope for redress can there be for victims of drone attacks and their families when the USA won’t even acknowledge its responsibility for particular strikes?”
The report was released in a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch, which issued its own report on drone and other air strikes in Yemen.
Amnesty International reviewed all 45 known drone strikes that took place in North Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013. The region that has seen more strikes than any other part of the country.
The organization conducted detailed field research into nine of these strikes, with the report documenting killings, which raise serious questions about violations of international law that could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.
In October 2012, 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in the family’s fields while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren.
In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work.
Contrary to official claims that those killed were “terrorists”, Amnesty International’s research indicates that the victims of these attacks were not involved in fighting and posed no threat to life.
“We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of labourers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States,” said Qadri.
International law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life . In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial execution, which are crimes under international law.
Amnesty International also documented cases of so-called “rescuer attacks” in which those who ran to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike were themselves targeted in a rapid follow-on attack. While there may have been a presumption that the rescuers were members of the group being targeted, it is difficult to see how such distinctions could be made in the immediate and chaotic aftermath of a missile strike.
The USA continues to rely on a “global war” doctrine to attempt to justify a borderless war with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and those perceived to be their allies.
The USA’s promise to increase transparency around drone strikes, underscored by a major policy speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013, has yet to become a reality, and the USA still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information.
This secrecy has enabled the USA to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation. As far as Amnesty International is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.
In addition to the threat of US drone strikes, people in North Waziristan are frequently caught between attacks by armed groups and Pakistan’s armed forces. The local population lives under constant fear of inescapable violence by all sides.
The US drone program has added to local suffering, with people in the region now also living in terror of death from US drones hovering in the skies day and night.
“The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the USA over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that was once associated only with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban,” said Qadri.
As the report documents, local men and women have little control over the presence of groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida in their villages and districts.
Al-Qa’ida-linked groups have killed dozens of local villagers they accused of being spies for US drone strikes. Residents of Mir Ali told Amnesty International that bodies are routinely seen dumped by the side of streets with written messages warning that anyone accused of spying for the USA will meet the same fate.
Residents also told Amnesty International they could not report abuses by armed groups to local authorities for fear of retaliation. Many residents were also fearful of talking about drones strikes to Amnesty International. Some of those who did speak openly received threats afterwards.
While the Pakistan government maintains it opposes the US drone program, Amnesty International is concerned that some officials and institutions in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the UK may be assisting the USA to carry out drone strikes that constitute human rights violations.
“Pakistan must provide access to justice and other remedies for victims of drone strikes. The authorities of Pakistan, Australia, Germany and the UK must also investigate all officials and institutions suspected of involvement in US drone strikes or other abuses in the tribal areas that may constitute human rights violations,” said Qadri.
“The Pakistani authorities must disclose information on all US drone strikes they have documented and what measures they have taken or will take to assist victims of these strikes.”
The report also documents the failure of the Pakistan state to protect the human rights of people in North Waziristan. This ranges from deaths, injuries and displacement of residents due to bombardment by the military, to the absence of justice mechanisms and lack of adequate medical assistance.
The Pakistani authorities have a very poor record in bringing al-Qa’ida, Taliban and other perpetrators of human rights abuses from the region to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are jointly calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the two organizations have documented and other potentially unlawful deaths, and to disclose any evidence of human rights violations to the public.
Amnesty International is calling on:
The US authorities to:
- Publicly disclose the facts and legal basis for drone strikes carried out in Pakistan and information about any investigation into killings by US drones.
- Ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that drone strikes resulted in unlawful killings.
- Bring those responsible for unlawful drone strikes to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.
- Ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members of victims of unlawful killings, have effective access to justice, compensation and other remedies.
The Pakistani authorities to:
- Provide adequate access to justice and reparations for victims of US drone strikes and attacks by Pakistan forces, and seek reparations and other remedies for drone strikes from the US authorities.
- Bring to justice, in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty, individuals responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses in North Waziristan. This should include US drone strikes, attacks by the Pakistan armed forces, or groups like the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.
- Publicly disclose information on all US drone strikes that the Pakistani authorities are aware of, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims.
The international community to:
- Oppose US drone strikes and other killings that violate international law and urge the USA and Pakistan to take the measures outlined above. States should officially protest and pursue remedies under international law when lethal force is unlawfully used by the USA or other states.
- Refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by sharing intelligence or facilities.
The Power of Sign Langauge
(Sydney) – Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential.
Worldwide, deaf children and young people are often denied an education, including in sign language. There is a lack of teachers well-trained in sign language, and in many cases parents do not know that their children have a right to go to school and that they can learn if only given the opportunity.
“Sign language is critical for deaf people to be able to communicate, express themselves, and learn,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Depriving deaf people of the opportunity to learn sign language can condemn them to devastating isolation.”
Hundreds of deaf people, their families, government officials, and disability experts have gathered in Sydney for a major conference on October 16-18 organized by the World Federation of the Deaf.
Human Rights Watch documented cases of deaf children and young people in Nepal,China, and northern Uganda who were denied their right to education in sign language. Some deaf children and young people interviewed did not attend school at all. Teachers and parents often have the misconception that deaf children lack the intellectual capacity to learn.
A deaf teacher featured in the video told Human Rights Watch: “Our disability only affects our hearing, not our minds. A deaf child’s mind is as good as a hearing child’s mind.”
The right to education in sign language for deaf people is safeguarded by the United NationsConvention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Under this treaty, governments have an obligation to facilitate the learning of sign language and to promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.
In concrete terms, this means employing teachers who are qualified in the national sign language, and training teachers at all levels of education to work with deaf pupils. Central to this approach is empowering deaf children, young people, and parents to help design and carry out education in sign language.
“Without the ability to use sign language on the most basic level, deaf people face significant barriers to being independent,” Barriga said. “Communication skills are fundamental to getting jobs and participating in the communities and family life.”