Tag Archives: united states

United States Operations in North Africa

Refinery located in Sidi Arcine, Baraki, Algeria

The Defense Department continues to work with nations in North Africa to promote security and increase stability in the region still feeling the effects of the Arab Spring, Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a Senate panel today. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are confronting instability and the U.S. military is working to build or strengthen their police and military forces, Dory told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Near eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs….The effects of the Arab Spring in North Africa continue to reverberate within the region and beyond its borders into the Sahelian states of sub-Saharan Africa, she said. Libya remains a key source of instability in North Africa and the Sahel. After the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi, there is little government infrastructure inside Libya, Dory said, and certainly no tradition of democracy.Violence is rampant in Libya and the Libyan government is too weak to control its borders and militias provide what security there is. Arms merchants are shipping Libyan weapons out of the country and these arms are fueling instability from Mali westward, Dory said…The United States will provide general-purpose-force military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel, Dory said.“This training effort is intended to help the [Libyan] government build the military it requires to protect government institutions and maintain order,” she said.  The training of Libyan military personnel may begin next year in Bulgaria.

In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, DOD maintains close military-to-military ties with their military counterparts. All three are engaged in a security dialogue with the United States and “they share our goals of countering terrorism and enhancing cross-border security,” Dory said…

Excerpts, By Jim Garamone, Military Continues Work With North African Countries American Forces Press Service, Nov. 21, 2013

Military Laboratory of the World: why the Djibouti dictatorship is supported by the West

Djibouti Port. Image from wikipedia

Other states, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, that also began as ports have diversified in recent decades, but not Djibouti. It lacks the skilled workforce to become a financial-services centre. Yet thanks to three unrelated developments it has turned into an ever more extraordinary transit hub

First, its backdoor leads to the world’s most populous landlocked country, Ethiopia, home to a fast-growing economy that needs access to the sea. Most of the food, oil and consumer goods imported for Ethiopia’s 83m-plus people passes through Djibouti. Instability in Ethiopia’s eastern neighbour, Somalia, and bad blood with Ethiopia’s other old enemy, Eritrea, mean that Djibouti is the only main transit option. Hence a new railway line to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, is being built.

At the same time, freighters chugging between Europe and Asia have been seeking an alternative to their traditional halfway stop in Dubai, which involves a detour into the Gulf. Djibouti is more directly en route. In 2009 it spent $400m on a state-of-the-art container terminal, the only one in the region. In the five previous years, trade volume had already doubled and is set to do so again. To expand still more, Djibouti’s port authority is close to securing $4.4 billion from abroad for another five terminals which, it is hoped, will be ready in the next four years.

Third, the woes of Djibouti’s neighbours have brought the world’s most powerful navies to its shores. Piracy in Somalia and anti-terror campaigns on the Arabian peninsula, only 32km (20 miles) away across the water, have created what a new report by Chatham House, a London-based think-tank, calls an “international maritime and military laboratory”.The United States is the biggest lab rat. Djibouti hosts the only permanent American base in Africa, home to 3,200 people, not all of them naval. Since 2010, American drones have been flying from Camp Lemonnier, beside the main airport, making it the busiest base for drones outside Afghanistan. Some 50 military flights take off every day, including a squadron of F-15E jets, which arrived in 2011. The Pentagon has drawn up plans to spend $1.4 billion to expand the base and triple the number of its special forces there to more than 1,000.

France, the former colonial master, still guarantees Djibouti’s security and keeps 2,000 troops there. The port-state also hosts the biggest military presence of Japan and China outside Asia, both drawn by the fight against Somali piracy. Along with Western countries, they co-operate keenly to protect commercial vessels—though everyone spies on each other. Djibouti also often hosts security-minded delegations from Russia, Iran and India. Even in the cold war, rarely was neutral territory so colourful or crowded.

All this toing and froing has brought Djibouti windfall revenues. President Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose family has been in charge since independence in 1977, dishes out a good slice of it to the country’s small elite, which is gratefully compliant. The rest of the almost 1m inhabitants are among the poorest in Africa, with 60% of them unemployed.Rattled by the Arab spring and fearing that even minor instability could frighten away foreign military friends and investors, the president has embarked on a carefully staged course of political reform. During legislative elections in February a fifth of the seats were allocated in proportion to votes cast rather than under the previous winner-takes-all system that has long favoured the president’s allies.

Opposition parties were given access to state media and allowed to hold rallies. They won 16 out of 65 seats but then alleged fraud, leading to demonstrations, street clashes with the police and the incarceration of the leading protesters.

The Horn of Africa: Containers—and containing dissent, Economist, May 4, 2013, at 49

Big and Rich: the US-EU Trade

Beef suet raw beef or mutton fat.  It is used to make tallow. Tallow is used to make biodiesel.

The guns of the long transatlantic beef war are silenced. Last year the European Union more than doubled its quota of American beef imports (so long as it is not treated with hormones) and America removed punitive duties on imports of Roquefort cheese. The Americans should soon ease a ban on beef imports imposed in 1997 to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. In November the EU accepted the American practice of decontaminating meat with lactic acid. A final skirmish, over American beef fat, could soon be settled through plans to allow imports of tallow for biodiesel (but not for cosmetics).

After decades of trade rows and lawsuits, the truce is meant to clear the air for an ambitious transatlantic free-trade deal. EU officials speak of creating “something approaching a transatlantic single market in goods”. Even a less grand pact could help to re-energise struggling economies on both sides of the Atlantic. It could also help America and Europe to set international trade rules in the face of a fast-rising China.

Big business wants a deal. Trade unions and greens are no longer so worried about a race to the bottom. The ever-protectionist French and Italians are on board. And yet there is genuine wariness, particularly on the American side. The report of a high-level group that is expected to recommend the start of talks has been delayed. Perhaps, think some, President Barack Obama is trying to squeeze concessions out of the Europeans; or, Europeans worry, he cares more about a transpacific deal?….American officials say they want to ensure that any negotiation is both unusually ambitious and unusually fast. The deal, they say, has to be done “on one tank of gas”, by which they mean in the next two years. Neither side wants a repeat of the moribund Doha round, now in its 12th year.

America and the EU make up the world’s biggest and richest trading partnership, accounting for about half of global GDP and one-third of trade. They are the biggest investors in each others’ economies. But this very closeness makes progress harder. Easy deals have mostly been done; what is left is complicated. Tariffs are low (below 3% on average, though higher on farm products) but non-tariff barriers abound. Many have to do with consumers, public health, the environment or national security. Governments are not usually elected to compromise on such matters.

One European aim is to open up America’s public-procurement market, which is more protected than Europe’s; one reason is that the federal government cannot force states to open tenders to foreign bidders. Another is to dismantle restrictions on services, which represent the lion’s share of output but a relatively small part of exports. European airlines cannot take over American carriers or carry passengers between American cities. Similar restrictions apply to coastal shipping under the 1920 Jones Act. Yet the EU market in services also remains fragmented. A transatlantic deal could spur further integration. Other difficulties include France’s insistence on the “cultural exception” to protect French-language audio-visual products, and the EU’s wish for America to respect hundreds of “geographical indications” on everything from Parmesan cheese to French wines.

For some officials, the biggest prize and the hardest brainteaser will be greater “regulatory convergence”, ie, to get both sides to move towards common rules, or at least regulations that are close enough that each can accept the other’s. There could be big savings if, say, pharmaceutical firms did not have to submit new drugs to two sets of safety tests. The EU has tried to pursue global standards for decades, often acrimoniously, by relying on supranational bodies. Yet across the Atlantic, successive dialogues between regulators have yielded little. The Transatlantic Economic Council was created in 2007 to increase political pressure. Rather than trying to redesign past rules, attention has shifted to new technologies such as electric cars and nanotechnology. Even so, after a year of negotiation on electric cars, one forlorn American official moans that “we have a common standard on the plug.”

Any trade deal will have to be broad to maximise the possible trade-offs. And it will, inevitably, have to address the minor but contentious subject of agriculture. Congressional leaders in America will not support a deal that excludes farming, to which European officials retort that the best way to kill one would be for America to ignore consumers’ fears of “Frankenfoods”, such as hormone-treated beef and genetically modified crops. Part of the answer is to have clear labelling and let consumers choose what they want to buy.

Excerpt from Transatlantic trading, Economist, Feb. 2, 2013, at 44

Litigating the Future of Nuclear Energy: United States

Until this past February 2012, the last time new nuclear power construction was approved in the United States was in 1978. But when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved two proposed nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Georgia, on February 9 in a four to one vote, it took less than a week for the legal action to begin.  Nine environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on February 16. The concerns at the heart of their challenge – safety issues and the Fukushima disaster – were similar to those of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, the sole dissenter in the commission’s vote.  Jaczko argued that Southern Company, whose company Southern Nuclear operates the Vogtle plant, had not proved it would take steps necessary to ensure the reactors could withstand an earthquake like the one that occurred in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011.  “I simply cannot authorise issuance of these licenses without any binding obligation that these plants will have implemented the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before they operate,” he wrote.

The groups are “working to challenge the NRC’s approval of the reactors because they fail to take into account public comments received by the agency concerning the proposed reactors’ security risks, following the Fukushima disaster”, Sara Barczak, a program director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the groups who filed the lawsuit, told IPS.  The other groups include the Blue Ridge Environmental Defence League, Centre for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South and North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network.  The Turner Environmental Clinic at Emory University Law School has been assisting with much of the legal work on the case.

A related legal challenge regarding the AP1000 reactor design by Westinghouse Electric Company, which would be used in the new Vogtle reactors, argued that the approval of the reactor design also failed to take into account the Fukushima disaster.  Those two challenges have been consolidated into one, and the groups recently filed a motion to stay further construction of the new reactors at Vogtle, which they hope will be heard within a month or so.  “We still have concerns about the ability of that reactor design to deal with seismic issues such as earthquakes….The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that any agency has to recalibrate and reissue an Environmental Impact Statement considering the information,” Barczak said.  “They would have had to do reassessments of doses to the public, reevaluating doses to site workers and the community, the evacuation plan, how the operator would handle a multi-unit meltdown,” she explained. “It would be a fairly substantial review.”…

Excerpt, Matthew Cardinale, Legal Challenges Counter Plans for New Nuclear Reactors, IPS, April 14

United States Military Strategy 2012 and beyond

Excerpts, Remarks by President Obama on the Defense Strategic Review, The Pentagon, Jan. 5, 2012

Now we’re turning the page on a decade of war. Three years ago, we had some 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, we’ve cut that number in half. And as the transition in Afghanistan continues, more of our troops will continue to come home…

As I made clear in Australia, we will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region. We’re going to continue investing in our critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO, which has demonstrated time and again — most recently in Libya — that it’s a force multiplier. We will stay vigilant, especially in the Middle East.  As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints — we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces. We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access.

So, yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.

Press Release, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Jan. 05,2012

Right to Know: deaths caused by the CIA’s drone program

The U.S. is disputing a report that its counter-terror drone program has killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, including more than 160 children. The London-based non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report this week that claimed the CIA drone program, credited for killing approximately 2,000 suspected militants, is also responsible for the deaths of 385 civilians, 168 of them kids, in 291 strikes since 2004.

“The numbers cited by this organization are way off the mark,” a senior U.S. official told ABC News. “We see the battlefield in real time; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism doesn’t… This group’s allegations about individual strikes are, in every case, divorced from the facts on the ground.”

The official said that while the U.S. agrees around 2,000 suspected militants have been killed, the total civilian casualties are closer to 50. One of the “loudest voices” in the report is that of a Pakistani lawyer who is currently involved in legal action with the U.S., the official said. “His agenda is crystal clear.”

The lead reporter on the BIJ’s project, Chris Woods, told ABC News that the group has no agenda and simply compiled public information while attempting to corroborate what they could on the ground, since the CIA’s figures are unavailable to them.

By LEE FERRAN, ABC News, Aug. 12, 2011

Afghanistan: the army knot, the rule of law

The global community has failed to create a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan despite pouring billions of dollars into the South Asian nation during a decade-long war against the Taliban, says the International Crisis Group.  The Brussels-based think tank said the United States and its allies still lacked a coherent policy to strengthen Afghanistan ahead of a planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops from the unpopular war by the end of 2014.

“Despite billions of dollars in aid, state institutions remain fragile and unable to provide good governance, deliver basic services to the majority of the population or guarantee human security,” it said in a report released this week.  Violence is at its worst in Afghanistan since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, with high levels of foreign troop deaths, and record civilian casualties during the first six months of 2011.  Afghanistan relies on foreign aid for around 90 percent of its spending, but many international donors are reluctant to channel aid through the country’s ministries because of a lack of capacity and rampant corruption.  Public sector corruption is seen as worse than in any other country except Somalia, and equal to Myanmar, according to Transparency International. President Hamid Karzai has acknowledged graft exists in his government but says foreigners are also to blame.

“The impact of international assistance will remain limited unless donors, particularly the largest, the U.S., stop subordinating programing to counter-insurgency objectives, devise better mechanisms to monitor implementation, adequately address corruption and wastage of aid funds,” said the International Crisis Group (ICG).

About $29 billion of that had been spent on the Afghan police and army, which “have thus far proved unable to enforce the law, counter the insurgency or even secure the seven regions” recently handed over to them, the report found.  “There is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces will stabilize the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programs,” it said.

By Michelle Nichols, World fails Afghanistan despite spending billions, Reuters, Aug 6 2011