Tag Archives: Barack Obama

US Deploys Troops to Cameroon

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United States President Barack Obama informed Congress on Wednesday that he will deploy up to 300 personnel to Cameroon for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations against Boko Haram insurgents.

In a letter that was released by the White House, President Obama disclosed that ninety personnel have already been deployed, which marks a modest but significant escalation of US involvement in the fight against the terrorist group, which earlier this year aligned itself with the Islamic State (IS) group. In making Wednesday’s announcement, the White House stressed that personnel will not take part in combat operations and would be armed only for self-defense. According to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, they are being sent under an arrangement with the Cameroonian government to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region. US officials have disclosed that the focus will still be on a regional coalition that has tried to keep a once regional Muslim anti-colonial movement from metastasizing into a regional jihadist threat. In the statement, the president indicated that the mission will last “until their support is no longer needed.”

While Washington has largely shied away from engaging its vast military assets to combat Boko Haram, the White House decision comes as Boko Haram steadily expands operations beyond its traditional base in northern Nigeria, crossing into neighboring Cameroon and Niger.

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The VII Summit of the Americas

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On April 10-11 in Panama City, Panama, the Heads of State and Government of the Americas were gathered for the Seventh Summit of the Americas. This year the Summit was especially important as it saw the historic presence of Cuba whose President Raul Castro addressed his counterparts and held face to face talks with Barack Obama, the first Cuban leader to do so since the its expulsion from the Organization of American States in 1962 imposed by the United States.

Regional leaders have widely hailed it as a victory for left-leaning and progressive forces in the region, and particularly Venezuela and Cuba. Several issues were highlighted during the Summit such as Cuban-US relations, energy solutions, climate change, peace in Colombia, Venezuelan-US relations and Argentina’s long-standing claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. During the summit, President Obama met with President Raul Castro and both said that their meeting will help their countries turn the page after decades of important hostility. It is likely that both countries will still have differences but they will advance mutual interests. President Obama said: “What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility. Over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.” President Castro has called for the lifting of the US economic blockade on Cuba and the country’s removal from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, for the US human right in Cuba and political reform are key issues. President Obama is expected to remove Cuba from the terrorism list in the coming days, which would further demonstrate US’s commitment to improving its ties with Cuba.

However, the much anticipated rapprochement between the US and Cuba was quite upstaged by regional leaders’ rejection of President Obama’s March 9 Executive Order that labelled Venezuela a “national security threat”, which has been condemned by 33 nations and other regional bodies. While positively noting the steps taken by President Obama to re-establish bilateral ties with Cuba, President Castro nonetheless criticized President Obama for his aggressive measures against Venezuela. The US also imposed sanctions on 7 Venezuelan top officials last month it accuses of human rights violations. A potentially tense moment of the Summit was avoided when President Maduro did not follow through on a pre-summit pledge to confront President Obama with 10 million signatures on a petition demanding the removal of the sanctions. Instead, President Maduro said the petitions would be delivered through diplomatic channels. This change of the initial strategy came after a senior US State Department official flew to Caracas to meet with Maduro, and Obama and other top officials walked back language declaring Venezuela’s political and economical instability a threat to US national security.

During the plenary sessions of the Summit, Venezuela was supported by other nations such as the presidents of Latin America’s two most populous and economically powerful nations: Brazil with President Rousseff, who only briefly criticized the US sanctions on Venezuelans as “counterproductive and inefficient”, and Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto, who delivered an attack-free address to the assembly. This support from other regional leaders is also characterized by their global desire of a lesser US intervention in the region and especially on political or military aspects. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed this by saying: “We don’t want more Monroes in our continent, nor more Truman doctrine, nor more Reagan doctrine, nor more Bush doctrine. We don’t want any more presidential decrees nor more executive orders declaring us threats to their country.”

The pressure put on the United States by regional leaders on several matters is escalating and it is highly likely that this will continue in a short- to mid-term period until US intervention in internal matters does not stop. However, both the meetings between the US with Cuba and with Venezuela demonstrated that improvements in their relations are possible and that steps in order to move forward will be taken by all sides. The Summit concluded with a Declaration from President Varela delivered at the end of the event. In his speech, the Panamanian president said he convened the summit “with a universal character” and that the result was a “historic” event, through the presence, for the first time, of Cuba. He then added that “the decision announced by the presidents of Cuba and the United States to move forward with a new approach to the relations between their countries created a legitimate expectation that situations, both old and new, that have made for tense hemispheric relations can be resolved.”


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The End of Cuba’s Isolation

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The end of Cuba’s isolation from the global policing fraternity after over a half a decade has opened the doors to a multitude of questions concerning the security of the country, the region, and its relations with the United States. Although not official until codified in legislation and approved by congress, the surprising change of events in December resulted from secret phone calls between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. The agreement between the Presidents will, effectively, re-establish relations between the two countries and open the door to an important opportunity for the U.S. to revamp its relationship with the region.

The surprising turn of events contradicts the U.S.’s long-term policy of isolation for Cuba. The instigation of normalization will relax travel, diplomatic, and economic restrictions between the two countries. Further to the agreement between the two leaders, the end of Cuba’s isolation comes with the condition of release of Americans and dissidents from Cuban soil. As a part of the normalization, Cuba will also permit officials from the Red Cross and the United Nations to return to its soil. Not only this, but further to Cuba’s situation, the country’s status as a, “state sponsor of terrorism”, will now come under review from the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. The removal of such a status will have an impact on the sanctions that continue to be applied to Cuba.

Cuba’s developments with the U.S. come with potential benefits for both countries, the prospect of improving U.S. security in the region being one of them. In so far as to say, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S. has the potential to arm Cuba with an economic position in the region that will advance the U.S.’s strategic interests and help the U.S. to deal with regional security challenges. Moreover, the policy-shift is likely to expand Cuba’s participation in the regional economy and in doing so, it has the potential to encourage Cuba to collaborate with other countries in the fight against drug trafficking, human trafficking and illegal immigration. However, there is a feasibly volatile side to the situation, as the normalization of relations could see traffickers establish Cuba as a fertile base for transit to Florida and onwards. The potential for such a situation raises some serious questions for the U.S. and the management of such security issues. One must ask if the Cuban law enforcement authorities are prepared a rise in criminal endeavors, resulting from the end of its isolation.

Whilst the ramifications of the official normalization deal between the U.S. and Cuba will follow a congressional approval, all that is certain at this point is that the Obama administration’s policy-shift is one which has not only re-established diplomatic relations between the two countries, it has also fuelled Cuba’s re-integration into the economic, political, and strategic-security realm.



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US Team Deploys to Nigeria as Additional Girls are Kidnapped

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As a team of US experts deploys to Nigeria in a bid to locate more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Boko Haram militants, news has spread that an additional eleven girls have been kidnapped in the northern region of the country.  News of these latest kidnappings comes just one day after Boko Haram’s leader confirmed the militant group’s involvement and threatened to sell the girls.

On Monday, the leader of Boko Haram confirmed that the militant group was behind the abduction of over 200 girls who were kidnapped three weeks ago in northeaster Nigeria.  In the new 57-minute video released Monday, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau added “I will sell them in the market, by Allah….Allah has instructed me to sell them.  They are his property and I will carry out his instructions.”  In the video, Shekau also notes that the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.

On the night of 14 April, Boko Haram militants stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Borno State.  The girls, aged 16 to 18, were forced onto trucks and taken into the remote areas along the border with Cameroon.  Although fifty-three of the girls managed to escape from the militants, according to police officials 223 are still being held.  Unconfirmed sources in Nigeria have indicated that the girls have been taken across the border and into neighbouring countries, including Chad and Cameroon, with some reports indicating that some of the girls had been forced to marry their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of US $12 (£7).

On Tuesday, residents reported that suspected Boko Haram militants have kidnapped eleven more girls from Nigeria’s embattled north eastern region.  According to one eyewitness, the militants arrived in two trucks and “…moved door to door looking for girls,” adding that “they forcefully took away eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15.”  Another eyewitness reported that the militants also seized animals and food from the village. According to a local government official, “after leaving Warabe the gunmen stormed the Wala village which is five kilometres away and abducted three more girls.”   The latest kidnappings occurred late Sunday in the villages of Warabe and Wala, which are located in the Gwoza area of Borno State.  Due to poor communication in the area, details of the latest kidnappings did not emerge until Tuesday.  The area around the two villages is known to be a stronghold of the militant group.

While Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency in northern Nigeria has over the past year intensified, the attack and kidnapping of the girls has shocked Nigerians and has resulted in an international outcry for their safe return.  Since the launch of military operations in three northern states last May, Boko Haram, which continues to be the main security threat in the country and regionally, has grown bolder in its attacks and has extended its reach.   The April 14 kidnapping occurred on the day a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, killed seventy-five people near Abuja, the first attack to be carried out in the capital city in two years.  More than two weeks later, the militants, who say they are fighting to create an Islamic state, carried out a second bomb attack, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.

The girl’s abduction has been a huge embarrassment for the government, which has failed to locate them, while Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has been under increasing pressure to act against the militant group.  The latest incidents will likely overshadow the country’s first hosting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa, which is set to take place on May 7 – 9 in Abuja.

US Deployment

In the wake of increasing frustration over the Nigerian government’s failure to locate the 223 missing schoolgirls, the United States has accepted an offer to aid in the search.

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama confirmed the deployment of a team of US experts, stating that the group is comprised of personnel from the military, law enforcement and other agencies, adding that he hopes the kidnapping may galvanise the international community to take action against Boko Haram.  US Secretary of State John Kerry also indicated Tuesday that Washington will set up a co-ordination cell at its embassy in Abuja which will include US military personnel, law enforcement officials and experts in hostage situations.

While US officials have stated that the first group of abducted girls, who are aged between 16 and 18, may have already been smuggled over Nigeria’s porous borders into countries such as Chad and Cameroon, officials from the two neighbouring states have indicated that at this time they do not believe the girls are in their countries.

The United Kingdom has also offered to help Nigerian authorities in their search.  On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the UK would assist the Nigerian government if they received such a request however what form the assistance would take was not specified by Hague.

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US Urges Russia to Stop “Intimidating” Ukraine

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United States President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to cut the number of troops it has deployed to its eastern border.  The statement by Mr Obama comes as ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for a national referendum to determine each region’s “status within Ukraine.”

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Obama stated that the move by Russia may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that Russia has additional plans.”  He added that President Vladimir Putin had been “willing to show a deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.”  He also warned that the Russian leader should not “revert back to the kinds of practices that were so prevalent during the Cold War,” adding “I think there’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”

Russia is believed to have deployed a force of several thousand troops close to Ukraine’s eastern frontier.  Although the Kremlin has stated that it has no plans to take over the eastern regions of Ukraine, tensions in Ukraine and in other former Soviets states have continued to rise.

A new classified intelligence assessment has also concluded that it is more likely than previously that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine.  Although US intelligence officials have emphasized that nothing is certain, they have indicated that over the past three to four days, there have been several worrying signs.  According to one official, “this has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be.”  The build up along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine is reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.

The assessment makes several new points including:

  • Troops on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, which exceed 30,000, are “significantly more” than what is needed for the “exercises” Russia says it has been conducting, and there is no sign the forces are making any move to return to their home bases.
  • The troops on the border with Ukraine include large numbers of “motorized” units that can quickly move.  Additional Special Forces, airborne troops, air transport and other units that would be needed appear to be at a higher state of mobilization in other locations in Russia.
  • Russian troops already on the border include air defence artillery and wheeled vehicles.

According to US intelligence officials, there is additional intelligence that even more Russian forces are “reinforcing” the border region.  All of the troops are in  positions for potential military action.  The US currently believes that Russia may decide to enter eastern Ukraine in order to establish a land bridge into Crimea.  The belief is that Russian forces would move toward three Ukrainian cities:  Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk in order to establish land access into Crimea.  According to US intelligence information, Russian forces are currently positioned in and around Rostov, Kursk and Belgorod.

In response to growing unrest amongst Western leaders, a Russian security official has also stated that intelligence measures are now being stepped up in order to counter Western threats to Moscow’s influence.  Alexander Malevany, deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) was quoted as saying “there has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state.  The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the United States and its allies.”  He added that Russia was taking “offensive intelligence measures” to counter Western efforts to “weaken Russian influence in a region that is of vital importance to Moscow.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, Ukraine’s highly-divisive opposition leader, and former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, announced her plans to run in the presidential polls which have been set for 25 May 2014, following last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime.   The dramatic announcement completes a highly improbable return to national politics that underscores the scale of changes that have shaken the former Soviet republic in the past few weeks.

Speaking to reporters shortly after walking into a pressroom, the 53-year-old confirmed “I intend to run for president of Ukraine.”  In 2010, Tymoshenko, one of the most charismatic and outspoken leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, lost a close presidential poll to Victor Yanukovych after heading two pro-Western cabinets that became embroiled in fighting and eventually lost popular support.  During her speech, Tymoshenko attempted to paint herself as a compromise figure who could look after the interests of her older supporters but who could also be able to find common ground with the Russian speakers who are now looking towards the Kremlin for assistance.

Shortly after the 2010 vote, her political downfall was rapid and seemingly fatal as Yanukovych’s government quickly launched a series of criminal probes against his political rival.  This led to a controversial trial over Tymoshenko’s role in agreeing to a 2009 gas contract with Russia that many Ukrainians though came at too high a cost.  In October 2011, she was convicted of abusing her power and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison, a sentencing that Western nations denounced as the use of selective justice.

However on 22 February 2014, the day the Ukrainian parliament ousted Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month, she emerged triumphantly from a state hospital, where she had spent most of her sentence under guard.  Hours after her release, she arrived at the protest square in the heart of Kiev, which had also served as the crucible of the 2004 pro-democracy movement that had propelled her political career.  However the crowd’s reception of Tymoshenko was guarded, a sign of their growing weariness of the corruption allegations that had been made against her.  Many now believe that the pro-Western government movement that Tymoshenko once headed is now looking towards a new generation of leaders who played a more prominent role in the latest protests and who now hold key position sin the new interim government.

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