Western Sahara—Morocco

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Western Sahara

Introduction Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat’s sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; a UN-organized referendum on the territory’s final status has been repeatedly postponed. In April 2007, Morocco presented an autonomy plan for the territory to the UN, which the U.S. considers serious and credible. The Polisario also presented a plan to the UN in 2007 that called for independence. Representatives from the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front have met four times since June 2007 to negotiate the status of Western Sahara, but talks have stalled since the UN envoy to the territory stated in April 2008 that independence is unrealistic.
History Early history

The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Western Sahara in historical times were agriculturalists called Bafour.[citation needed] The Bafour were later replaced or absorbed by Berber-speaking populations which eventually merged in turn with migrating Arab tribes, although the Arabic speaking majority in the Western Sahara clearly by the historical record descend from Berber tribes that adopted Arabic over time. There may also have been some Phoenician contacts in antiquity, but such contacts left few if any long-term traces.

The arrival of Islam in the 8th century played a major role in the development of relationships between the Saharan regions that later became the modern territories of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Algeria, and neighboring regions. Trade developed further and the region became a passage of caravans especially between Marrakech and Tombouctou in Mali. In the Middle Ages, the Almohads and Almoravids movements and dynasties both originated from the Saharan regions and were able to control the area.

Towards the late Middle Ages, the Beni Hassan Arab bedouin tribes invaded the Maghreb, reaching the northern border-area of the Sahara in the 14th and 15th century. Over roughly five centuries, through a complex process of acculturation and mixing seen elsewhere in the Maghreb and North Africa, the indigenous Berber tribes adopted Hassaniya Arabic and a mixed Arab-Berber nomadic culture.

Spanish province

After an agreement among the European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884 on the division of spheres of influence in Africa, Spain seized control of the Western Sahara and established it as a Spanish protectorate after a series of wars against the local tribes reminiscent of similar European colonial adventures of the period, in the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. Spanish colonial rule began to unravel with the general wave of decolonization after World War II, which saw Europeans lose control of North African and sub-Saharan African possessions and protectorates. Spanish decolonization in particular began rather late, but internal political and social pressures for it in mainland Spain built up towards the end of Francisco Franco’s rule, in the context of the global trend towards complete decolonization. Spain began rapidly and even chaotically divesting itself of most of its remaining colonial possessions. After initially being violently opposed to decolonization, Spain began to give in and by 1974-75 issued promises of a referendum on independence. The nascent Polisario Front, a nationalist organization that had begun fighting the Spanish in 1973, had been demanding such a move.

At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania, which had historical claims of sovereignty over the territory based on competing traditional claims, argued that the territory was artificially separated from their territories by the European colonial powers. The third neighbour of Spanish Sahara, Algeria, viewed these demands with suspicion, influenced also by its long-running rivalry with Morocco. After arguing for a process of decolonization guided by the United Nations, the government of Houari Boumédiènne committed itself in 1975 to assisting the Polisario Front, which opposed both Moroccan and Mauritanian claims and demanded full independence.

The UN attempted to settle these disputes through a visiting mission in late 1975, as well as a verdict from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which declared that Western Sahara possessed the right of self-determination. On November 6, 1975 the Green March into Western Sahara began when 350,000 unarmed Moroccans converged on the city of Tarfaya in southern Morocco and waited for a signal from King Hassan II of Morocco to cross into Western Sahara.

Demands for independence

In the waning days of General Franco’s rule, the Spanish government secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania as it moved to abandon the Territory on 14 November 1975, mere days before Franco’s death. Although the accords foresaw a tripartite administration, Morocco and Mauritania each moved to annex the territory, with Morocco taking control of the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces and Mauritania taking control of the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya. Spain terminated its presence in Spanish Sahara within three months, even repatriating Spanish corpses from its cemeteries. The Moroccan and Mauritanian moves, however, met staunch opposition from the Polisario, which had by now gained backing from Algeria. In 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal due to pressure from Polisario, Morocco extended its control to the rest of the territory, and gradually contained the guerrillas through setting up the extensive sand-berm in the desert to exclude guerilla fighters. Hostilities ceased in a 1991 cease-fire, overseen by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO, under the terms of a UN Settlement Plan.

Stalling of the referendum and Settlement Plan

The referendum, originally scheduled for 1992, foresaw giving the local population the option between independence or affirming integration with Morocco, but it quickly stalled. In 1997, the Houston Agreement attempted to revive the proposal for a referendum, but likewise has hitherto not had success. As of 2007, however, negotiations over terms have not resulted in any substantive action. At the heart of the dispute lies the question of who qualifies to be registered to participate in the referendum, and, since about 2000, Morocco’s renewed refusal to accept independence as an option on the referendum ballot combined with Polisario’s insistence that independence be a clear option in the referendum.

Both sides blame each other for the stalling of the referendum. The Polisario has insisted on only allowing those found on the 1974 Spanish Census lists (see below) to vote, while Morocco has insisted that the census was flawed by evasion and sought the inclusion of members of Sahrawi tribes with recent historical presence in the Spanish Sahara.

Efforts by the UN special envoys to find a common ground for both parties did not succeed. By 1999 the UN had identified about 85,000 voters, with nearly half of them in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara or Southern Morocco, and the others scattered between the Tindouf refugee camps, Mauritania and other places of exile. Polisario accepted this voter list, as it had done with the previous list presented by the UN (both of them originally based on the Spanish census of 1974), but Morocco refused and, as rejected voter candidates began a mass-appeals procedure, insisted that each application be scrutinized individually. This again brought the process to a halt.

According to a NATO delegation, MINURSO election observers stated in 1999, as the deadlock continued, that “if the number of voters does not rise significantly the odds were slightly on the RASD side”. By 2001, the process had effectively stalemated and the UN Secretary-General asked the parties for the first time to explore other, third-way solutions. Indeed, shortly after the Houston Agreement (1997), Morocco officially declared that it was “no longer necessary” to include an option of independence on the ballot, offering instead autonomy. Erik Jensen, who played an administrative role in MINURSO, wrote that neither side would agree to a voter registration in which they were destined to lose

Baker Plan

As personal envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker (who also had John R. Bolton in his delegation) visited all sides and produced the document known as the “Baker Plan”. This was discussed by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, and envisioned an autonomous Western Sahara Authority (WSA), which would be followed after five years by the referendum. Every person present in the territory would be allowed to vote, regardless of birthplace and with no regard to the Spanish census. It was rejected by both sides, although it was initially derived from a Moroccan proposal. According to Baker’s draft, tens of thousands of post-annexation immigrants from Morocco proper (viewed by Polisario as settlers, but by Morocco as legitimate inhabitants of the area) would be granted the vote in the Sahrawi independence referendum, and the ballot would be split three-ways by the inclusion of an unspecified “autonomy”, further undermining the independence camp. Also, Morocco was allowed to keep its army in the area and to retain the control over all security issues during both the autonomy years and the election. In 2002, the Moroccan king stated that the referendum idea was “out of date” since it “can not be implemented”; Polisario retorted that that was only because of the King’s refusal to allow it to take place.

In 2003, a new version of the plan was made official, with some additions spelling out the powers of the WSA, making it less reliant on Moroccan devolution. It also provided further detail on the referendum process in order to make it harder to stall or subvert. This second draft, commonly known as Baker II, was accepted by the Polisario as a “basis of negotiations” to the surprise of many. This appeared to abandon Polisario’s previous position of only negotiating based on the standards of voter identification from 1991 (i.e. the Spanish census). After that, the draft quickly garnered widespread international support, culminating in the UN Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of the plan in the summer of 2003.

Western Sahara today

Currently, the Baker II document appears to be a dead letter, with Baker having resigned his post at the UN in 2004. His resignation followed several months of failed attempts to get Morocco to enter into formal negotiations on the plan, but he met with rejection. The new king, Mohammed VI of Morocco, opposes any referendum on independence, and has said Morocco will never agree to one: “We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand”.

Instead, he proposes, through an appointed advisory body Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), a self-governing Western Sahara as an autonomous community within Morocco. His father, Hassan II of Morocco, initially supported the referendum idea in principle in 1982, and in signed contracts with Polisario and the United Nations in 1991 and 1997; thus engaging to a referendum. However, no major powers have expressed interest in forcing the issue, and Morocco has historically showed little real interest in an actual referendum.

The UN has put forth no replacement strategy after the breakdown of Baker II, and renewed fighting has been raised as a possibility. In 2005, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported increased military activity on both sides of the front and breaches of several cease-fire provisions against strengthening military fortifications.

Morocco has repeatedly tried to get Algeria into bilateral negotiations, based on its view of Polisario as the cat’s paw of the Algerian military. It has received vocal support from France and occasionally (and currently) from the United States. These negotiations would define the exact limits of a Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan rule, but only after Morocco’s “inalienable right” to the territory was recognized as a precondition to the talks. The Algerian government has consistently refused, claiming it has neither the will nor the right to negotiate on the behalf of the Polisario Front.

Demonstrations and riots by supporters of independence and/or a referendum broke out in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara in May 2005, and in parts of southern Morocco (notably the town of Assa). They were met by police. Several international human rights organizations have expressed concern at what they termed abuse by Moroccan security forces, and a number of Sahrawi activists have been jailed. Pro-independence Sahrawi sources, including the Polisario, have given these demonstrations the name “Independence Intifada”, while most sources have tended to see the events as being of limited importance. International press and other media coverage has been sparse, and reporting is complicated by the Moroccan government’s policy of strictly controlling independent media coverage within the territory.

Demonstrations and protests are still occurring, after Morocco declared in February 2006 that it was contemplating a plan for devolving a limited variant of autonomy to the territory, but still explicitly refused any referendum on independence. As of January 2007, the plan has not been made public, even if the Moroccan government claims that it has been more or less completed.

The Polisario Front has intermittently threatened to resume fighting, referring to the Moroccan refusal of a referendum as a breach of the cease-fire terms, but most observers seem to consider armed conflict unlikely without the green light from Algeria, which houses the Sahrawis’ refugee camps and has been the main military sponsor of the movement.

In April 2007 the government of Morocco suggested that a self-governing entity, through the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), should govern the territory with some degree of autonomy for Western Sahara. The project was presented to the United Nations Security Council in mid-April 2007. The stalemating of the Moroccan proposal options has led the UN in the recent “Report of the UN Secretary-General” to ask the parties to enter into direct and unconditional negotiations to reach a mutually accepted political solution.

Geography Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates: 24 30 N, 13 00 W
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 266,000 sq km
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: about the size of Colorado
Land boundaries: total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
Coastline: 1,110 km
Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew
Terrain: mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 805 m
Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore
Land use: arable land: 0.02%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.98% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
Environment – current issues: sparse water and lack of arable land
Environment – international agreements: party to: none of the selected agreements
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas
Politics The legal status of the territory and the question of its sovereignty remains unresolved; the territory is contested between Morocco and Polisario Front. It is considered a non self-governed territory by the United Nations.

The government of Morocco is a formally constitutional monarchy under Mohammed VI with a bicameral parliament. The last elections to the lower house were deemed reasonably free and fair by international observers. Certain powers such as the capacity to appoint the government and to dissolve parliament remain in the hands of the monarch. The Morocco-controlled parts of Western Sahara are divided into several provinces treated as integral parts of the kingdom. The Moroccan government heavily subsidizes the Saharan provinces under its control with cut-rate fuel and related subsidies, to appease nationalist dissent and attract immigrants – or settlers – from loyalist Sahrawi and other communities in Morocco proper.

The exiled government of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a form of single-party parliamentary and presidential system, but according to its constitution, this will be changed into a multi-party system at the achievement of independence. It is presently based at the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, which it controls. It also claims to control the part of Western Sahara to the east of the Moroccan Wall, known as the Free Zone. This area has a very small population, estimated to be approximately 30,000 nomads. The Moroccan government views it as a no-man’s land patrolled by UN troops. The SADR government whose troops also patrol the area regard it as the liberated territories and have proclaimed a village in the area, Bir Lehlou as SADR’s provisional capital.

People Population: 405,210
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2009 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 44.9% (male 92,428/female 89,570)
15-64 years: 52.8% (male 105,191/female 108,803)
65 years and over: 2.3% (male 3,881/female 5,337) (2009 est.)
Median age: total: 17.3 years
male: 16.8 years
female: 17.8 years
Population growth rate: 2.829% NA (2009 est.)
Birth rate: 39.95 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 11.74 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 69.66 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 69.84 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 69.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 54.32 years
male: 52 years
female: 56.73 years (2009 est.)
Total fertility rate: NA 5.61 children born/woman (2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS – deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber
Religions: Muslim
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Literacy: NA
Government Country name: conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Spanish Sahara
Government type: legal status of territory and issue of sovereignty unresolved; territory contested by Morocco and Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ; territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976 when Spain withdrew, with Morocco acquiring northern two-thirds; Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979; Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly thereafter and has since asserted administrative control; the Polisario’s government-in-exile was seated as an Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984; guerrilla activities continued sporadically until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented on 6 September 1991 (Security Council Resolution 690) by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara or MINURSO
Capital: none
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (under de facto control of Morocco)
Suffrage: none; a UN-sponsored voter identification campaign not yet completed
Executive branch: none
Political pressure groups and leaders: none
International organization participation: WFTU
Diplomatic representation in the US: none
Diplomatic representation from the US: none
Culture The major ethnic group of the Western Sahara are the Sahrawis, a nomadic or Bedouin tribal or ethnic group speaking the Hassānīya dialect of Arabic, also spoken in much of Mauritania. They are of mixed Arab-Berber descent, but claim descent from the Beni Hassan, a Yemeni tribe supposed to have migrated across the desert in the 11th century.

Physically indistinguishable from the Hassaniya speaking Moors of Mauritania, the Sahrawi people differ from their neighbors partly due to different tribal affiliations (as tribal confederations cut across present modern boundaries) and partly as a consequence of their exposure to Spanish colonial domination. Surrounding territories were generally under French colonial rule.

Like other neighboring Saharan Bedouin and Hassaniya groups, the Sahrawis are Muslims of the Sunni sect and the Maliki fiqh. Local religious custom (‘urf) is, like other Saharan groups, heavily influenced by pre-Islamic Berber and African practices, and differs substantially from urban practices. For example, Sahrawi Islam has traditionally functioned without mosques in the normal sense of the word, in an adaptation to nomadic life.

The originally clan- and tribe-based society underwent a massive social upheaval in 1975, when a part of the population was forced into exile and settled in the refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria. Families were broken up by the fight. For developments among this population, see Sahrawi and Tindouf Province.

The Moroccan government considerably invested in the social and economic development of the Moroccan controlled Western Sahara with special emphasis on education, modernisation and infrastructure. El-Aaiun in particular has been the target of heavy government investment, and has grown rapidly. Several thousand Sahrawis study in Moroccan universities. Literacy rates are appreciated at some 50% of the population.

To date, there have been few thorough studies of the culture due in part to the political situation. Some language and culture studies, mainly by French researchers, have been performed on Sahrawi communities in northern Mauritania.

Economy Economy – overview: Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Incomes in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level. The Moroccan Government controls all trade and other economic activities in Western Sahara. Morocco and the EU signed a four-year agreement in July 2006 allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. However, in 2006 the Polisario awarded similar exploration licenses in the disputed territory, which would come into force if Morocco and the Polisario resolve their dispute over Western Sahara.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $NA
GDP (official exchange rate): $NA
GDP – real growth rate: NA%
GDP – per capita (PPP): $NA
GDP – composition by sector: agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40%
Labor force: 12,000 (2005 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 50%
industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate: NA%
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Budget: revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
Fiscal year: calendar year
Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%
Agriculture – products: fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish
Industries: phosphate mining, handicrafts
Industrial production growth rate: NA%
Electricity – production: 90 million kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity – consumption: 83.7 million kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (2007)
Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity – production by source: fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Oil – production: 0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil – consumption: 1,760 bbl/day (2006 est.)
Oil – exports: 0 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – imports: 1,925 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas – production: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – consumption: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – exports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – imports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Exports: $NA
Exports – commodities: phosphates 62%
Imports: $NA
Imports – commodities: fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Economic aid – recipient: $NA
Debt – external: $NA
Currency (code): Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Currency code: MAD
Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar – 7.526 (2008 est.), 8.3563 (2007), 8.7722 (2006), 8.865 (2005), 8.868 (2004)
Communications Telephones – main lines in use: about 2,000 (1999 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 0 (1999)
Telephone system: general assessment: sparse and limited system
domestic: NA
international: country code – 212; tied into Morocco’s system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations – 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco
Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0 (1998)
Radios: 56,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: 6,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .eh
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: NA
Transportation Airports: 9 (2007)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2007)
Airports – with unpaved runways: total: 6
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 3
under 914 m: 2 (2007)
Ports and terminals: Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
Military Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 52,267
females age 16-49: 59,221 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 4,796
female: 4,679 (2009 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes – international: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, whose sovereignty remains unresolved; UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, administered by the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties thus far have rejected all brokered proposals; several states have extended diplomatic relations to the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” represented by the Polisario Front in exile in Algeria, while others recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; most of the approximately 102,000 Sahrawi refugees are sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria

2 Seal Team 6 Members Murder A Green Beret Soldier In Mali?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

The Navy is investigating whether two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six killed an Army Green Beret in Mali in June, a US official told CNN Sunday.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Ed Buice confirmed to CNN the NCIS investigation into the death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar.
Melgar was a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant, according to a statement from the US Army Special Command.
Military officials told CNN that a military examiner ruled Melgar’s death while on assignment in the African nation of Mali as a homicide.

Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar.

A US official told CNN jurisdiction for the investigation shifted from the Army investigation service to the Navy in September. The official said the transfer of jurisdiction indicates that Navy personnel are subjects of the investigation.
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The New York Times was the first to report that two members of SEAL Team Six were under investigation for Melgar’s death, saying his death was caused by strangulation at a US government compound near the American embassy in Bamako, the capital.
Michelle Melgar, the victim’s wife, has been notified her husband’s manner of death was a homicide, the official said.
She told CNN: “I ask for privacy during this time — I hope that you will allow me to tell my story when I’m ready. I knew him best — he was my best friend. It’s all so new — I’m sorry.”
Melgar, a native of Lubbock, Texas, enlisted in the US Army in 2012 and began Special Forces training in 2013, according to the US Army Special Command statement. He served two deployments to Afghanistan.
The report of the mysterious death and resulting homicide investigation comes as the US undergoes heightened scrutiny about its military role Africa following the death of four US service members in Niger earlier this month.
Melgar was a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group, which is the primary unit responsible for Army special operations in northwest Africa, including Mali and Niger. The four American soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month were part of the same group.
Some Senate leaders expressed surprise about the extent of US military operations, renewing the debate over the authority for the United States’ sprawling war on terror.
Amid growing questions about what went wrong during the deadly mission, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said the US forces are in “about 53 different countries” in Africa.
Like neighboring Niger, Mali has faced significant, deadly extremism. Gunmen attacked a luxury resort in Mali the same month Melgar died, and in August there were two separate attacks on United Nations missions there.

Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers

During a news conference at the White House on Oct. 16, President Trump claimed that “most” American presidents, including Barack Obama, didn’t call families of soldiers who were killed in action. Former members of the Obama administration said this is false. (Reuters)
 October 18 at 8:36 AM
On Oct. 4, the day four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were gunned down at the border of Niger and Mali in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office, the commander in chief was lighting up Twitter with attacks on the “fake news” media.The next day, when the remains of the first soldiers reached Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Trump was assailing the “fake news” and warning the country of “the calm before the storm.” What storm, he never did say.Over that weekend, as the identity of the fourth soldier was disclosed publicly and more details emerged about the incident, Trump was golfing and letting it rip on Twitter about Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the NFL, North Korea, Puerto Rico and, again, alleged media bias.But a president who revels in providing color commentary on the news said nothing about what happened in Niger for 12 straight days — until Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he was asked by a reporter to explain his uncharacteristic silence.

In his answer, Trump said in his defense that he had written personal letters to the soldiers’ family members, and he then tried to use the issue to gain a political advantage. Trump leveled false accusations at his predecessors, including former president Barack Obama, saying they never or rarely called family members of service members who were killed on their watch, when in fact they regularly did.

President Obama salutes as an Army team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Oct. 29, 2009. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

As anger swelled, Trump continued to attempt to bolster his broader claim Tuesday by invoking the death of Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly who was killed in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan.

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

“He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, died from wounds sustained during an ambush Oct. 4, 2017, in Niger. All three Soldiers were assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) on Fort Bragg. (U.S. Army/U.S. Army)

In his call with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, Trump told her, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” according to the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Wilson recalled in an interview with The Washington Post that Johnson broke down in tears. “He made her cry,” Wilson said. The congresswoman said she wanted to take the phone and “curse him out,” but that the Army sergeant holding the phone would not let her speak to the president.

The White House neither confirmed nor denied Wilson’s account. “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

But in a Twitter post Wednesday, Trump claimed Wilson “totally fabricated” her account of his call to the widow. Trump went on to back up his assertion by insisting he has “proof.”

“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” Trump wrote.

Wilson stood her ground. Speaking on an MSNBC, she called Trump’s call “horrible” and “insensitive.”

“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name,’” said Wilson.

Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary and White House chief of staff under Democratic presidents, said Trump should have more quickly conveyed the “deepest regrets of the country for the families that lost their loved ones.” He put some of the responsibility for Trump’s slow response on his staff.

“Somebody screwed up here, okay?” Panetta said. “You don’t let that amount of time pass when our men and women in uniform have been killed.”

Trump did not serve in the military — he sought and received several draft defermentsduring the Vietnam War — and has drawn pointed criticism in the past for his comments about military heroes.

As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked the service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and feuded with the Gold Star parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

And on his first full day as president, Trump used a speech before the Central Intelligence Agency’s wall of stars honoring intelligence officers who died in service to air his personal grievances, including about the media coverage of the size of his inaugural crowd.

Peter Wehner, an adviser and speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s White House, said communicating empathy and compassion has been for Trump like speaking “a foreign language.”

“Part of being a president is at moments being pastor in chief, dispensing grace and understanding and giving voice to sorrow, tragedy and loss,” Wehner said. “But he’s a person who’s missing an empathy gene.”

Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Bush and McCain, said he was surprised by Trump’s 12-day silence on the Niger attack.

“There is no issue too small for him to comment on,” Schmidt said. “He tweets at all hours of the morning and night on every conceivable subject. He has time to insult, to degrade, to demean always. But once again, you see this moral obtusity in the performance of his duties as commander in chief.”

Still, the brother of one of the fallen soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, said he and his family have not been bothered by Trump’s comments.

William Wright said Tuesday afternoon in an interview that his parents were expecting a phone call from the president soon and that his family would consider it a “great honor” to speak with him. If Trump had called earlier, Wright said, the family would not have been ready for it.

“It’s not something we’re upset by, and it’s not something we are offended by,” Wright said. “This is a devastating experience to go through, and we have been blessed with a lot of support. It’s our hope that everyone can rally around the families of the fallen soldiers.”

Sanders defended Trump’s Monday comments, saying the president was not criticizing his predecessors “but stating a fact” that presidents sometimes have called family members, sometimes have sent letters and other times have met in person.

Inside the West Wing, Trump’s advisers have been furious with what they consider unfair criticism of their boss’s comments leveled by former Obama staffers. Privately, they have accused the media of assuming the worst in Trump — jumping to a conclusion that he does not respect military members because he waited so long to comment on the four killed Green Berets. One top aide argued that a “tone and veil of hate” has defined the coverage.

With the war against terrorism continuing well into its second decade, the number of battlefield deaths has greatly declined, making the loss of four soldiers on a single day all the more significant. So far in 2017, about 30 service members have died, compared with at least 346 hostile deaths in all of 2009 and 456 in all of 2010, which were Obama’s first two years in office.

Wartime presidents historically have wrestled with how often they reach out to the bereaved, which is an important part of leadership, and how they maintain their own emotional health by not letting personal grief overwhelm their judgment, said Eliot A. Cohen, a senior State Department official in the Bush administration.

“If Franklin D. Roosevelt had personally contacted the family members of every service member who fell in World War II, he would have been so overwhelmed emotionally he could not have made any decisions,” Cohen said.

Panetta said each president has his own way of expressing condolences. “The most important test is whether it comes from the heart,” he said. “It’s not so much whether he decides to do a letter or a phone call. You don’t do this by the numbers. You do it by what you think can most appropriately reflect the nation’s concern.”

This month’s deadly operation in Niger was unusual and highly sensitive, and the military has not yet disclosed many details. It was something of a surprise that the Special Forces unit came under fire — and the remains of one of the fallen soldiers, Johnson, 25, were not recovered until two days afterward.

Marine Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters Oct. 12 that the ambush marked the first time in at least six months that the U.S. military had faced enemy fire in the region.

McKenzie said the operation was meant to be an outreach effort in which the U.S. soldiers went out alongside local forces; it was “not designed to be a combat patrol.” But he defended the support the soldiers had, saying that there was a “pretty good level of planning” and that French forces responded within 30 minutes with helicopter air support.

The general said the Pentagon believes there is some connection to an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group in the attack.

U.S. Africa Command first disclosed late Oct. 4 that U.S. troops had come under fire in Niger. The command confirmed the following morning that three U.S. soldiers — Staff Sgts. Bryan C. Black, 35; Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39; and Wright — were killed.

On Oct. 6, the Pentagon disclosed that U.S. troops also had recovered the remains of Johnson. The military did not explain how Johnson was separated from other U.S. forces in the mission, a development that rarely occurs in a military that prides itself on never leaving service members behind on the battlefield.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Oct. 11 that he “completely rejected” any notion that the rescue effort for the unit was slow, and he promised that the military will examine the operation.

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“We’re not complacent,” he said. “We’re going to be better.”

Sanders twice extended thoughts and prayers on behalf of the administration to the family members of the dead soldiers — in her press briefings on Oct. 5 and 6 — but Trump issued no statement echoing his press secretary.

Bonnie Carroll, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said she has had good experiences with several presidents when it comes to mourning the loss of fallen service members.

“While there is no one way to acknowledge the death,” she said in a statement, “what is important for the family is that the president acknowledges the life and service of their loved one, and expresses gratitude on behalf of the nation.”

Alex Horton and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.

Mali’s Capital Of Bamako: Shots Fired, Luxury Hotel Under Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Shots were fired Sunday at a luxury resort near Mali’s capital city of Bamako, according to a tweet from the UN Mission to the West African country.

The tweet reads: “shots fired at Le Campement #Kangaba, tourist camp in the suburbs of #Bamako #Mali.”
Reuters, sourcing a spokesman at the Security Ministry, reported that the resort came under attack by gunmen. He had no further details of the attack but said it was still going on, Reuters, reported.
The EU Training Mission in Mali tweeted a statement that they were aware of the attack and were assessing the situation.
Earlier this month, the US Embassy in Bamako had issued a travel warning on its website, saying there was an increased security threat to Westerners.
“The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens of a possible increased threat of attacks against Western diplomatic missions, places of worship, and other locations in Bamako where Westerners frequent. Avoid vulnerable locations with poor security measures in place, including hotels, restaurants, and churches,” the warning said.
Le Campement is located on the outskirts of the capital, about 30 minutes from downtown Bamako. The resort is popular with Western tourists and expatriates who use its facilities to host business meetings and team-building exercises.
The grounds include a hotel, bars, restaurant, spa and swimming pools. The resort also offers live entertainment and several outdoor activities, including bike rides and kayaking on the Niger River.

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

France has killed more than 20 militants hiding in a forest near the border between the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso this weekend, its regional force said in a statement.

The operation followed the death of a French soldier nearby earlier this month. It involved both air and ground strikes, the statement said. It did not identify the militant group.

Mali has been regularly hit by Islamist militant violence, despite a 2013 French-led operation to drive them out of key northern cities they had seized. It extended a state of emergency by six months this weekend.

But violence in its southern neighbor, Burkina Faso, began to intensify last year with an attack in the capital that killed dozens. Burkinabe officials believe a new Islamist militant group called Ansar al-Islam led by a local preacher was using the Foulsare Forest as a base for launching attacks elsewhere.

France has deployed some 4,000 soldiers to fight Islamist militants in the region.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Larry King)

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Opinion

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

President Trump’s air strikes against Syria were of dubious legality. They were hypocritical. They may have had political motivations.

But most of all, they were right.

I’m deeply suspicious of Trump’s policies and competence, but this is a case where he is right and Barack Obama was wrong. Indeed, many of us believe that Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake was his passivity in Syria.

But Trump changed US policy 180 degrees after compelling photos emerged of children gassed in Syria. Should a president’s decisions about war really depend on the photos taken?

Here’s why I believe he was right.

Since the horrors of mustard gas during World War I a century ago, one of the world’s more successful international norms has been a taboo on the use of chemical weapons. We all have an interest in reinforcing that norm, so this is not just about Syria but also about deterring the next dictator from turning to sarin.

For an overstretched military, poison gas is a convenient way to terrify and subdue a population. That’s why Saddam Hussein used gas on Kurds in 1988, and why Bashar al-Assad has used gas against his own people in Syria. The best way for the world to change the calculus is to show that use of chemical weapons carries a special price — such as a military strike on an airbase.

Paradoxically, Assad may have used chemical weapons because he perceived a green light from the Trump administration. In recent days, Rex Tillerson, Sean Spicer and Nikki Haley all suggested that it was no longer American policy to push for the removal of Assad, and that may have emboldened him to open the chemical weapons toolbox. That mistake made it doubly important for Trump to show that neither Assad nor any leader can get away with using weapons of mass destruction.

Look, for a Syrian child, it doesn’t matter much whether death comes from a barrel bomb, a mortar shell, a bullet, or a nerve agent. I hope Trump will also show more interest in stopping all slaughter of Syrians — but it’s still important to defend the norm against chemical weapons (the United States undermined that norm after Saddam’s gas attack by falsely suggesting that Iran was to blame).

Critics note that Trump’s air strikes don’t have clear legal grounding. But Bill Clinton’s 1999 intervention to prevent genocide in Kosovo was also of uncertain legality, and thank God for it. Clinton has said that his greatest foreign policy mistake was not intervening in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide; any such intervention also would have been of unclear legality — and the right thing to do.

There are risks ahead, of Russia or Syria targeting American aircraft or of Iran seeking revenge against Americans in Iraq. War plans rarely survive the first shot, and military interventions are easier to begin than to end. But as long as we don’t seek to topple Assad militarily, everybody has an interest in avoiding an escalation.

Many of my fellow progressives viscerally oppose any use of force, but I think that’s a mistake. I was against the Iraq war, but some military interventions save lives. The no fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s is one example, and so are the British intervention in Sierra Leone and French intervention in Mali. It’s prudent to be suspicious of military interventions, but imprudent to reject any use of force categorically.

Want proof that military interventions in the Middle East can work? In 2014, Obama ordered air strikes near the Syria-Iraq border against ISIS as it was attacking members of the Yazidi minority. Those US strikes saved many thousands of Yazidi lives, although they came too late to save thousands more who were killed or kidnapped as slaves.

In Syria, the crucial question is what comes next.

There’s some bold talk among politicians about ousting Assad from Syria. Really? People have been counting on Assad’s fall for six years now, and he’s as entrenched as ever.

Moreover, if this was a one-time strike then the larger slaughter in Syria will continue indefinitely. But I’m hoping that the administration may use it as a tool to push for a ceasefire.

The New York Times

Suicide Bomber Strikes Chinese Embassy: Kills Only Himself

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News Paper)

Suicide bomb hits Chinese embassy

A suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek yesterday, killing the attacker and wounding at least three other people.

Officials from both countries described the assault as a terrorist act, and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev ordered the government to take extra counter-terrorism measures in the capital and regions, his office said in statement.

China condemned the attack and urged Kyrgyz authorities to “quickly investigate and determine the real situation behind the incident.”

“China is deeply shocked by this and strongly condemns this violent and extreme act,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Hua said China strongly condemned the terrorist attack and said terrorism was “a public enemy of the international community,” as well as the most serious threat in the region.

The spokeswoman said China was ready to cooperate with Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region to fight terrorism and maintain regional safety and stability.

Stressing that China opposes terrorism in any form, Hua said China would continue to ensure the safety of the Chinese people and institutions in other countries.

A Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman said the car exploded inside the compound. Police cordoned off the embassy and adjacent area, and the GKNB state security service were investigating the bombing that occurred at about 10am.

Three embassy staff suffered minor injuries and had been taken to hospital, but no organization claimed responsibility.

At 9:32am, the explosive-laden van started ramming the embassy door and crashed into the compound. The driver immediately detonated the explosive device packed in the van, causing a powerful explosion.

“As a result of the explosion, only the suicide bomber terrorist died. Security guards were injured,” Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov told reporters.

The wounded have suffered minor injuries, and are currently being treated at the hospital. The bomber was blown into pieces, and local police are trying to identify the assailant using DNA extracted from remains of the attacker.

The explosion also caused damage to the embassy’s east door and walls, as well as buildings next to the Chinese embassy.

The embassy compound and the area in the vicinity are currently under police blockade. Bomb disposal experts are working on the scene.

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim former Soviet republic of 6 million people, routinely detain suspected militants linked to Islamic State, which actively recruits from Central Asia.

A Turkish official said in June that one of three Islamic State suicide bombers involved in the deadly attack on Istanbul’s main airport was a Kyrgyz national.

Attacks on Chinese missions abroad are rare but in 2015, an Islamist militant attack on a hotel in Mali killed three Chinese citizens, and in Pakistan, Chinese workers have occasionally been targeted by what police say are nationalists opposed to China’s plan to invest tens of billions of dollars in a new trade route to the Arabian Sea.

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