North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

West African sahel region sinks into turmoil

Suddenly, France, Algeria (two countries who have their own long story of conflict as colonizer and colony), Mali, and al-Qaeda affiliates are involved in a rapidly escalating conflict in Western Africa.

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Arena of the rapidly escalating conflict in NW Africa

Centered in Mali, which has been covered at least twice in this blog, Islamist groups (Ansar Dine and Islamic Maghreb), have been inching south closer and closer to Bamoko, the capital city the past several months. What had been a shearing off of the northern half of the country last July by a mixture of Tuareg tribes and Islamists was followed rather rapidly by a entrenchment of those positions by the Islamist group(s) - increasingly we hear more of Islamist extremists rather than Tuaregs, more on that later - and an encroachment towards towns and cities further to the south.

The UN had in July 2012 authorized a collection of West African military forces to gather and take back the desert regions of Northern Mali, but had left a, shall we say, very leisurely pace to be set - actually no specific timetable, but the fall of 2013 has been mentioned - before serious actions would be undertaken. See for the text of resolution 2056

French Intervention

France, led by its Socialist President Hollande, did not see a luxury of time, and at the end of 2012, began gathering military assets together in Southern Mali to fend off the Islamists.

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French fighter aircraft, and attack helicopters came in first, but are now being buttressed by up to 2500 ground troops.

Last week, French warplanes attacked Islamist forces around the town of Diabaly, causing Islamist forces to run for cover. While fleeing exposed positions, the Islamists did not leave the town, rather mixed with the local population, and ended up being accused of using locals as human shields.

Now, french troops are being flown in, from an original 800 to 2500. And on-the-ground fighting is underway in Diabaly as of Wednesday, January 16.

French ground troops on the move towards Diabaly (on what appears to be an unusually modern and well maintained paved road ...)

One more thing

In one further step of escalation, however, in retaliation for last weeks attacks from French warplanes, Islamists seized employees of a natural gas drilling operation in Algeria. As NBC news reports, "A number of Americans have been seized by militants at a gas field in Algeria, U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday, in what he described as a terrorist incident. The militant group that claimed responsibility said it was in revenge for Algeria's support of France's operation against al-Qaeda-linked Malian rebels groups far to the southeast. It said it was holding 41 foreigners, including seven Americans."

A natural gas facility in Algeria, similar to that where Islamists have taken hostages

Note that the natural gas facility is a long way from the Mali border, but very close to Libya. It is a reminder that Libya continues to fester after the 2011 removal of Gaddafi, a country where the 2012 killing of the US ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11 was only reluctantly acknowledged as a terrorist attack, and the overthrow itself widely recognized as having swamped the region with plenty of arms for all persuasions.

A bit of history:

The rebel takeover of northern Mali began soon after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya in October 2011, when Tuareg fighters from northern Mali, who had been fighting alongside Gaddafi’s forces, returned home with weapons from Libyan arsenals.

They joined with Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militants who had moved to the lightly policed region from Algeria, and the two groups easily drove out the weakened Malian Army in late March and early April last year. The Islamists then turned on the Tuaregs, routing them and consolidating control in the region in May and June. So, the liberation of Awazad, which had been the Tuareg's longtime cry for self governance, has been silenced, as has peace in this region for years to come.

Islamists triumphant in Mali. Local residents must now fear for their hands and heads - removable items if they commit specific offenses under Sharia law.

The Tuaregs, long neglected within their own lands and with many justifiable points as to their resistance to broader Malian governance, nevertheless chose sides badly by linking themselves with Islamists.

Questions remain

US President Bush was excoriated for his decision to take on Saddam Hussein in 2003 - the world heard from all quarters: the US was out of control, did not seek adequate consensus, did not focus on coalition building ..., etc. The ouster of Libya's Gaddafi, in contrast, was trumpeted by US President Obama as the "smart" way to lead change, and that from behind. The action had UN consensus, plus the Arab League was on board - passing the new Global Test, as it was put. However, eager to move on after Gaddafi was killed, little effort was made to contain or shape the aftermath, The result, increasingly apparent from the Mali crisis, is that unsecured weaponry flowed across the region. One could describe the Libyan action with consequences still unfolding, as not at all following the script advanced by Western politicians. (And are we close to seeing this situation play out again in Syria where chemical and advanced weaponry may yet end up in Hezbollah hands or elsewhere ...)

Did French President Hollande collect the approval of the UN, or build a consensus before intervening in a matter of weeks? No, and apparently the Western world is not outraged or concerned. Is he the new cowboy of the world? Or once again, is the Western media selective and arbitrary in its formulations.

The highly technological West continues to favor aerial attacks, cruise missiles, and drones (the new US favorite)as weapons of choice - minimal damage or exposure to conflict for its own forces, but with clear limitations on the scouring out of an enemy, or at the very least, the securing of abandoned or hidden weapon caches.

What was derided as a needlessly provocative phrase, the "war on terror" was replaced by the Obama administration in 2009 with the phrase "overseas military contingencies." Apparently, three years later, the phrase "war on terror" is back, only it is US Secretary of Defense Panetta using the term, not the former president/cowboy from Texas.

Finally, the long history of neglect for the peoples of northern Mali, followed by the armed insurgence of the Tuaregs and their own dalliance with Islamists leading to their demise can be found at the following link. It is a detailed and doleful story that brings us to today's headlines.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

UK faces flareups in old tensions in Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands

The United Kingdom (ie. Great Britain), after pulling off spectacular summer 2012 Olympics and rejoicing over the latest Royal pregnancy, suddenly has found itself confronting old tensions.

The closest to home is in Northern Ireland, where the insistence on parochial parades and the waving of flags has resulted in violence once again between Catholics and Protestants who typically represent the political perspectives of those wishing to remain loyal to the British crown, and those who want to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Three days of violence began with the Belfast city council decided to stop flying the British flag year round. Protestors have converged on the council headquarters wrapped up in British flags demanding the decision be reversed. Counter protestors have reacted angrily, getting into fights with the flag waving protestors ... and away it goes.

Northern Ireland, with Belfast as the political and administrative center of the entity

Protestors started out at the City Council heaquarters in Belfast ...

... followed up with more strident parades in the streets

Fights, firebombs, and a few stray shots have increased the tensions and stakes between those wishing unification with Ireland, draped in Catholicism, and those clinging to Great Britain, with a tribal identification with Protestantism

Unfortunately, the flare-up of violence and tension cannot be dismissed with a roll of the eyes towards fringe individuals. The past three days are an altogether potent reminder of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland running from the late 1960s to the end - sort of - with the 1998 Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement. During those three decades, over 3500 deaths occurred (civilians and armed forces of police and army) with 45,000 injuries. And untold grief, trauma, economic cost, and opportunities lost.

Argentina again demands its right to govern the Falkland Islands (the Malvinas)

More than 7000 miles away from UK's concern with Northern Ireland, a tiny set of islands in South America is suddenly a repeat source of irritation. Over 30 years ago, as summarized at Wikipedia, "Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault. The resulting conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, which returned the islands to British control. During the conflict, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and 3 Falkland Islanders died."

A geographic look at the UK, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands.

The tension then, and now, is over the legitimacy of who should control the islands. Argentina bases its claim back to Spain's one time possession, the UK counters that that claim is not clear, and that those on the island should have the final say in what country they should retain citizenship.

Argentinan President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

The latest claim by Argentina's President Kirchner is the fourth in the past year alone. From a CNN article, "In February of last year, the Argentinian leader accused the British of militarizing the South Atlantic after the Royal Navy sent its warship HMS Dauntless to the region. Then, in June of 2012, Fernandez confronted [UK Prime Minister] Cameron at the G-20 meeting and tried to hand him a letter about the islands -- something he refused to accept.

The dispute flared again ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, when Argentina released a video boosting its Olympic team that was filmed on the islands. The advertisement showed Argentinian field hockey star Fernando Zylberberg training in the streets of Port Stanley in the Falklands. The video ends with the slogan: "To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil."

President Kirchner, with appropriate military officials in the background all orchestrated for the media, throws carnations into the Beagle Channel at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falkland conflict near the war memorial in Ushuaia Argentina on Monday.

The stance predictably ended with protestors burning UK flags, wanting their islands back

So, Teatree isn't sure of what Fernandez' game is. Perhaps it is deflecting criticism from her own governance issues to one mingled with patriotism, similar to her recent decision to nationalize a Spanish energy company's assets in Argentina (ironic that while that occurred, Argentina bases its claim on an agreement with Spain in 1833 ...)

Whatever the case, the world goes on a swirling with conflict, outrage, vows to remember and revenge, etc. Oh, and epiphany occurs tomorrow, January 6.