Tag Archive: africa


Libyan combat stymies moves on antiaircraft threat

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110515/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_libya_anti_aircraft_missile_threat

By STEPHEN BRAUN, Associated Press Stephen Braun, Associated Press 2 hrs 34 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The fierce combat in Libya has unleashed a once-hidden arsenal of portable anti-aircraft missiles that the government fears could easily be siphoned off to terror groups, giving rise to a potential threat to commercial aviation that the U.S. is only beginning to confront, government officials and arms experts said.

The fears are compounded by suspicions that Libyan government and opposition forces are both deploying fighters with ties to terrorists and mercenaries. With more than 20,000 missile launchers estimated in Libya, there have been unconfirmed reports that some anti-aircraft weapons have already been funneled to North African militants, but amid the vast caches wielded by both sides, there is no solid evidence yet that terrorists have them.

Troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and opposition fighters have made frequent use of Russian-built anti-aircraft weapons in the two-month-long civil war, including aging 30-year-old shoulder-fired models to advanced truck-mounted missile launchers, according to battlefront accounts and an array of combat photographs and video.

The availability of man-portable air defense systems, also known as MANPADS, across the world’s conflict zones has long worried counterterrorism officials. Passenger flights have never been targeted by such missiles inside the U.S., but there have been nearly a dozen lethal strikes over the past decade in Africa and Asia.

Surveillance by aerial drones and diplomatic pressure on Libya’s African neighbors to police its porous borders may be the best, if limited, actions the U.S. can take for now. U.S. military planes can fly above the range of the missiles and use electronic jamming to elude them, but detection and evasion gear are considered too bulky and expensive to install in the world’s civilian aircraft fleets.

Congressional officials are pressing U.S. diplomatic and military officials for details on how they might counter the anti-aircraft missile threat in Libya, but said they have heard few specifics. Late last month, Edward R. Royce, R-Calif., chairman of a House subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to step up efforts to monitor and secure antiaircraft weapons — even as rebel units were reportedly receiving new shipments of armaments from abroad.

“The department should be in contact with neighboring countries to exercise vigilance in locating and securing any missiles that may be transiting out of Libya,” Royce wrote in a letter to Clinton. He urged State Department officials to press rebels to keep tight control over any such missile stockpiles. The U.S., he added, should mount “an aggressive missile destruction and recovery program” once a new Libyan government is installed.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the department’s efforts, said an internal task force has turned urgent attention to the threat. The spokesperson also said officials were in contact with the Libyan opposition and international organizations inside the country.

Even those first steps are unlikely to be effective in quickly securing the anti-aircraft missiles and launchers in use in Libya, experts said.

“The problem is that you have amorphous groups on both sides and all sorts of weaponry are coming into play from unregulated caches,” said a former assistant secretary of state, Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., who headed a Bush administration effort to recover and dispose of anti-aircraft weapons. “The primary objective is to make sure these missiles don’t cross Libyan borders. In theory, that’s the goal, but it’s not clear it can be done in the middle of a hot war.”

The U.S. general who led the early American airstrikes enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone estimated earlier this month that Gadhafi’s military amassed as many as 20,000 portable missile launchers before the conflict started. That would outstrip similar caches of terror groups and militants in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years.

“Many of those we know are now not accounted for, and that’s going to be a concern for some period of time,” Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno said last month that a cache of surface-to-air missiles and launchers taken from liberated Libyan stocks already reached al Qaeda’s North African contingent, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Similar accounts have come from Algerian officials but the reports have yet to be confirmed, the U.S. officials said.

The fluid contours of the conflict, with war-torn cities changing hands repeatedly, make it nearly impossible to closely monitor stockpiles. Shoulder-fired launchers can easily be concealed, even from airborne U.S. Predator drones and spy planes, and truck-mounted units can be disassembled or masked by canopies. Poorly armed rebels will not likely give up their limited MANPADS supplies, and Gadhafi’s forces would presumably be hostile to any effort to turn over arms while the U.S. and allied forces enforce the no-fly zone.

Bloomfield, who was special envoy for MANPADS threat reduction in the final year of the Bush administration, worked with the State and Defense departments to track and dispose of weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms. Since 2003, the U.S. has led international efforts to recover 32,000 MANPADS from Afghanistan to the Ukraine — a figure dwarfed by congressional estimates that there are 500,000 to 750,000 worldwide.

The cost of outfitting large passenger planes with defensive devices was deemed too expensive — as much as $3 million per jet. Since 1975, missiles fired at civilian planes in nearly a dozen incidents have killed more than 200 people from Africa to Central Asia. A shoulder-fired missile was blamed for deaths of 11 crew members aboard an Ilyushin cargo plane downed in Somalia in March 2007. Two U.N. transports were struck by missiles over Angola in 1998 and 1999, leaving 23 dead. Two missiles fired by terrorists barely missed a chartered Israeli commercial jet taking off in November 2002 with 271 passengers and crew near Mombasa, Kenya.

U.S. anti-missile efforts involve negotiations with legitimate governments, said J. Christian Kessler, former director of the State Department’s Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction, which works with the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement to counter the anti-aircraft threat. “That process simply can’t function if you’re dealing with a hostile government and an unorganized opposition at war.”

The U.S. has worked to reduce stockpiles of such missiles in 20 other countries with smaller arsenals than Libya, and when the U.S. began renewing ties with Gadhafi’s government, it pressured the regime to disassemble its nuclear weapons program and chemical arms stockpile. But there was no similar anti-missile effort in Libya that might have limited the current battlefield proliferation.

“We really didn’t have our finger on MANPADS as an agenda item,” said Bloomfield, now chairman of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan global security group in Washington. The issue never re-emerged, he said, because of growing U.S. strains with Gadhafi over the precise reciprocal steps to resolve Libya’s culpability in the 1988 bombing of a Pan AM flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

The missiles sighted in Libyan battle zones are mostly Russian, typically shoulder-fired SA-7 Strela missiles and launchers that date to the 1970s, said Matthew Schroeder, an arms expert with the Federation of American Scientists who has examined images of nearly four dozen separate anti-aircraft weapons in use on the Libyan front. Some SA-7s are likely too old to function.

The head of Russia’s Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade reported last month that Gadhafi’s forces had also amassed between 600 and 1,500 1980s-vintage Russian MANPADS. And recent Associated Press photos and other images from the Libyan front show both sides wielding advanced Strelets vehicle-mounted launchers capable of firing new SA-24 Grinch missiles. KBM, a Russian arms exporting company, confirmed a recent sale of an unspecified number to Gadhafi’s military, according to Aviation News, a trade publication.

The SA-24 has a longer range — accurate to 11,000 feet — than the 1980s Russian models, Schroeder said. Its bulkier vehicle mount would make it harder to hide, said Pieter Wiezeman, a senior arms expert with the Stockholm International Peace Institute, a nongovernment group in Stockholm.

But a carefully-concealed truck-mounted weapon would still be mobile and compact enough to be taken anywhere in Africa, he said, adding: “If someone gets near a runway with some of those missiles in a 4-by-4 truck, how are you going to stop them?”

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White House: bin Laden unarmed during assault

Local people and media gather outside the perimeter wall and sealed gate into the compound and a house where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caughhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110503/ap_on_re_us/us_bin_laden

By Nancy Benac, Associated Press Nancy Benac, Associated Press 46 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was confronted by U.S. commandos at his Pakistani hideout but tried to resist the assault, the White House said Tuesday as new details emerged about the audacious raid that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.

The White House said it was considering whether to release photos that were taken of bin Laden after he was killed but was concerned that the photos were “gruesome” and could be inflammatory.

Other details that emerged on Tuesday, according to U.S. officials: One of bin Laden’s wives tried to rush the commandos and was shot in the leg. High temperatures caused a lumbering helicopter carrying the raiders to make a hard landing. And as Navy SEALs swept through the compound, they handcuffed those they encountered with plastic zip ties and pressed on in pursuit of their target, code-named Geronimo.

Once bin Laden had been shot, they doubled back to move the prisoners away from the compound before blowing up the downed helicopter.

The fuller picture of the high-stakes assault emerged as U.S. officials weighed whether to release video and photos of bin Laden, who was killed with a shot above his left eye.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and revealed some of the new details about the raid, said she’d known about the suspected bin Laden compound since last December — offering rare evidence that Washington can indeed keep a blockbuster secret.

President Barack Obama made plans to go to ground zero in New York on Thursday to mark the milestone of bin Laden’s demise and to remember the dead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the U.S. was scouring items seized in the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — said to include hard drives, DVDs, a pile of documents and more — that might tip U.S. intelligence to al-Qaida’s operational details and perhaps lead to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

As for publicly releasing photos and video, Brennan said in a series of appearances on morning television. “This needs to be done thoughtfully,” with careful consideration given to what kind of reaction the images might provoke.

At issue were photos of bin Laden’s corpse and video of his swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also anxious to address the stories already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.

In a move that could increase pressure for the release of photos, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said talk of bin Laden’s death was “premature,” adding that the U.S. had not presented “convincing evidence,” the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

Obama, who approved the extraordinarily risky operation and witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room, his face heavy with tension, reaped accolades from world leaders he’d kept in the dark as well as from political opponents at home. Pakistan, however, called the raid “unauthorized” Tuesday and it shouldn’t serve as a precedent for future actions.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, in interviews with Time and PBS’ “Newshour,” sketched the scene in the Situation Room as the tense final minutes of the raid played out.

“Once those teams went into the compound,” he told PBS, “I can tell you there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on.”

Then, Panetta told Time, when Adm. William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, reported that the commandos had identified “Geronimo” — the code name for bin Laden — “all the air we were holding came out.”

And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, Panetta said, the room broke into applause.

Carney filled in details about the assault, saying that bin Laden did resist the commandos, although he was not armed. One of bin Laden’s wives, Carney said, was in the room and tried to charge at the U.S. assaulters.”

Monday night, Republican and Democratic leaders gave Obama a standing ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before the assault but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step away from the fractious political climate.

The episode was an embarrassment, at best, for Pakistani authorities as bin Laden’s presence was revealed in their midst. The stealth U.S. operation played out in a city with a strong Pakistani military presence and without notice from Washington. Questions persisted in the administration and grew in Congress about whether some elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus might have been in collusion with al-Qaida in letting bin Laden hide in Abbottabad.

Brennan asked the question that was reverberating around the world: “How did Osama bin Laden stay at that compound for six years or so and be undetected?”

“We have many, many questions about this,” he said. “And I know Pakistani officials do as well.” Brennan said Pakistani officials were trying to determine “whether there were individuals within the Pakistani government or military intelligence services who were knowledgeable.” He questioned in particular why bin Laden’s compound hadn’t come to the attention of local authorities.

Feinstein, for her part, said Congress may consider docking the almost $1.3 billion dollars in annual aid to Pakistan if it turns out the Islamabad government knew bin Laden’s whereabouts.

In an article published Tuesday by The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country’s security forces may have sheltered bin Laden, and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint his whereabouts.

As Americans rejoiced, they worried, too, that terrorists would be newly motivated to lash out. In their wounded rage, al-Qaida ideologues fed that concern. “By God, we will avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam,” one prominent al-Qaida commentator vowed. “Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: Let us wait a little bit.”

In that vein, U.S. officials warned that bin Laden’s death was likely to encourage attacks from “homegrown violent extremists” even if al-Qaida is not prepared to respond in a coordinated fashion now.

U.S. officials say the photographic evidence shows bin Laden was shot above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.

He was also shot in the chest, they said. This, near the end of a frenzied firefight in a high-walled Pakistani compound where helicopter-borne U.S. forces found 23 children, nine women, a bin Laden courier who had unwittingly led the U.S. to its target, a son of bin Laden who was also slain, and more.

Bin Laden could have lived at the fortified compound for up to six years, putting him far from the lawless and harsh Pakistani frontier where he had been assumed to be hiding out.

They said SEALs dropped down ropes from helicopters, killed bin Laden aides and made their way to the main building.

U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death originally came from detainees held in secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators were told of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularly trusted.

It took four long years to learn the man’s real name, then years more before investigators got a big break in the case, these officials said.

Sometime in mid-2010, the courier was overheard using a phone by intelligence officials, who then were able to locate his residence — the specially constructed $1 million compound with walls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire.

U.S. counterterrorism officials considered bombing the place, an option that was discarded by the White House as too risky, particularly if it turned out bin Laden was not there.

Panetta told Time that a “direct shot” with cruise missiles was still under consideration as late as Thursday but was ruled out because of the possibility of “too much collateral” damage. Waiting for more information also was a possibility.

Ultimately, Obama signed an order on Friday for the team of SEALs to chopper onto the compound under the cover of darkness.

In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons was killed in the raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden’s wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were the courier, and the courier’s wife and brother, U.S. intelligence officials believe.

Feinstein, asked if the information gleaned from high-value detainees in the CIA’s former secret prisons had proved the worth of such tactics, said “nothing justifies the kind of procedures used.”

Some people found at the compound were left behind when the SEALs withdrew and were turned over to Pakistani authorities who quickly took over control of the site, officials said. They identified the trusted courier as Kuwaiti-born Sheikh Abu Ahmed, who had been known under the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

Within 40 minutes, the operation was over, and the SEALs flew out — minus the helicopter that had to be destroyed. Bin Laden’s remains were flown to the USS Carl Vinson, then lowered into the North Arabian Sea.

Bin Laden’s death came 15 years after he declared war on the United States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.

___

Libya rebels claim control of Tunisian border post

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya

By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Karin Laub And Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 37 mins ago

 

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan rebels said Thursday they had control of a post on the Tunisian border, forcing government soldiers to flee over the frontier and possibly opening a new channel for opposition forces in Moammar Gadhafi’s bastion in western Libya.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, meanwhile, relief workers and medical teams awaited the arrival of a passenger ferry carrying about 1,000 people — mostly Libyan civilians and workers from Asia and Africa — out of the besieged city of Misrata, the main rebel holdout in Gadhafi’s territory.

Also aboard the vessel were the bodies of an Oscar-nominated documentary maker from Britain and an American photographer who were killed covering clashes Wednesday. A day earlier, the ferry arrived in Misrata, delivering food and medical supplies to the beleaguered population.

The reported capture of the border crossing followed three days of intense fighting outside the desert town of Nalut, about 140 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tripoli, said a rebel leader, Shaban Abu Sitta. The area was briefly in hands of anti-government forces last month before Libyan troops moved in.

Holding the Dhuheiba border crossing could open important supply routes for anti-Gadhafi forces and give the rebels another foothold in western Libya.

“Rebels are now manning Dhuheiba crossing,” said Abu Sitta, who claimed his fighters destroyed 30 army pickup trucks and captured 10 cars and some weapons.

Tunisia’s official TAP news agency said Libyan rebels had control of the post and at least 13 Libyan military officers, including two commanders, fled across the border. The report, citing a “high-level” Tunisian military official, said the Libyan officers were detained and the border post was closed.

A doctor with Tunisia’s Red Crescent, Dr. Mongi Slim, said the border post was in rebel hands and relief officials fear it could lead to a new wave of refugees.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

“The main worry now is an influx of families fleeing the fighting” in Libya, Slim told The Associated Press. “Before, when the post was under the control of the pro-Gadhafi forces, people had been crossing on little paths. But now it will be much easier.”

On the Ionian Spirit ferry — part of a maritime lifeline to Misrata — Libyan civilians and migrants workers packed the decks, hallways and every other available space. In the ship’s Panorama Bar, evacuees tossed mattresses onto the wooden dance floor. Women slipped behind a curtain to change.

The injured were brought to the lower level of the ship, where an 11-member medical team set up a makeshift intensive care unit.

Jeremy Haslam, a coordinator from the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, said the boat has more than 1,000 evacuees including 239 Libyan civilians and 586 migrants from Niger and others from Africa and Asia.

He said some Libyans tried to flee Misrata aboard a tug boat, but were turned away because the vessel was overcrowded. Some managed to get aboard the ferry.

“We are carrying more than we are supposed to but it’s better than letting these people leave on a tugboat,” said Haslam.

The number of people seeking to flee Misrata has surged as Libyan forces expand their shelling to areas once considered relatively safe havens from attacks.

“Our neighborhood became a war zone so we had to get out,” said Faiza Stayta, who made it aboard the ferry with her husband and two children. “All the firing is random. You hear a rocket and how have no idea if it will come down on your house.”

The vessel carried the bodies of Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the 2010 Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” that was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was co-directed by Sebastian Junger, author of “The Perfect Storm.”

They were killed Wednesday in an attack that also injured two other photographers. A statement from Hetherington’s family said he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. The ship also held the body of a Ukrainian doctor killed Wednesday from an artillery blast, said Haslam of the IOM.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during a visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, said the doctor’s wife was severely wounded by the shell.

He expressed his “deepest condolences for that couple. This is not just a couple, this is what Ukrainian people are showing to humanity to the world.”

The group is planning to send another ship to Misrata carrying 500 tons of food and medical supplies. The IOM said it has evacuated more than 3,100 people from Misrata.

___

Hubbard reported from aboard the Ionian Spirit. Associated Press writer Hadeel al-Shalchi contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110322/ap_on_re_eu/libya_us_jet

By DAVID RISING, Associated Press David Rising, Associated Press 42 mins ago

BERLIN – A U.S. fighter jet crashed in Libya after an apparent equipment malfunction but both crewmembers were able to eject and were back in American hands with only minor injuries, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The F-15E Strike Eagle jet was conducting a mission Monday night against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses when it crashed at 2130 GMT (5:30 p.m. EDT), said Lt. Cmdr. Karin Burzynski, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Africa Command.

A spokesman for the Libyan opposition, Mohammed Ali, said the U.S. plane went down about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper published a series of photographs it said was the wreckage of the plane, showing people milling around the burned-out aircraft in a Libyan field.

One of the jet’s airmen landed in a field of sheep after ejecting from the plane, then raised his hands and called out “OK, OK” to a crowd who had gathered, the Telegraph cited witness Younis Amruni, 27, as saying.

“I hugged him and said: ‘Don’t be scared, we are your friends,'” Amruni told the newspaper, adding that people then lined up to shake the airman’s hand.

“We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies,” he said. “We gave him juice and then the revolutionary military people took him away.”

A Marine Corps Osprey search and rescue aircraft retrieved the main pilot, while the second crew member, a weapon systems officer who is also a pilot, was recovered by rebel forces and is now in American hands, a U.S. official said in Washington. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Amruni said the Osprey fired shots to keep locals away, then swooped in and rescued the second crew member.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

The two were separated after ejecting from the crippled jet at high altitude and drifting down to different locations, Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley said, adding they sustained minor injuries.

The aircraft, based out of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, was flying out of Italy’s Aviano Air Base in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. The cause of the crash is being investigated.

The Air Force has said only that B-2, F-15 and F-16 fighters are participating in operations over Libya. The U.S. involvement in Libya is being run by Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany.

The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries that began Saturday has rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels from what had appeared to be imminent defeat.

On Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in the capital, Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment.

But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi’s troops from attacking rebel cities — in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians — the United States, at least, has appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.

_____

Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Cassandra Vinograd in London and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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