Trump’s AFRICOM war in Niger

This video from the USA is called Africom Is Building A Huge Military Fort In Africa.

By Eddie Haywood in the USA:

Pentagon concealed role of US special forces in deadly Niger offensive

17 March 2018

AFRICOM acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that it kept quiet about a deadly offensive its elite forces conducted late last year with Nigerien soldiers, highlighting the scale of US special operations in West Africa and illustrating clearly the predatory aims that underlay the Pentagon’s deployment of elite soldiers in the region.

On December 6 last year, Green Berets coordinating a military operation with Nigerien forces, killed 11 militants near the town of Diffa, close to the Nigerian border. The announcement by the Pentagon on Wednesday marks the first time it has acknowledged its role in the December engagement.

AFRICOM’s silence regarding the operation was no doubt influenced by the international outcry provoked by the October 4 killing of four Green Berets during an ambush in northwestern Niger two months prior, which exposed the vast scale of US military operations across West Africa.

The Pentagon’s operations in Niger are extensive and far-reaching—last year the US finished construction of a drone base in Agadez, located in central Niger, which AFRICOM stated is equipped with the capability of conducting armed drone flights across the entire Sahel region and into Northern Africa to carry out surveillance and assassinations.

Speaking to the New York Times regarding the December 6 offensive, AFRICOM spokesperson Samantha Reho stated that American and Nigerien troops on a mission in the Lake Chad Basin region came under fire from a “formation of violent extremists”. Reho portrayed the event as an act of defense on the part of US and Nigerien troops after Islamist militants attacked their garrison.

“The purpose of the mission was to set the conditions for future partner-led operations against violent extremist organizations in the region”, she said. “There was no aspect of this mission focused on pursuing enemy militants, and the combined force was postured to respond as necessary in case contact with the enemy occurred”, Reho claimed.

Reho added, “With that said, our forces do operate in unstable areas and are occasionally exposed to danger from enemy forces. When such a situation occurs, our personnel are authorized to respond to threats and violence appropriately.”

Refuting Reho’s claims and making clear the predatory character of US military operations in Niger is the October interview of Nigerien Defense Minister Kalla Mountari by Reuters. When asked to describe the mission of US Special Forces deployed to Niger and their relationship to the Nigerien forces, Mountari matter-of-factly stated, “The Americans are not just exchanging information with us. They are waging war when necessary. We are working hand in hand. The clear proof is that the Americans and Nigeriens fell on the battlefield for the peace and security of our country.”

Further contradicting the account provided by Reho was the statement to the New York Times by an anonymous official familiar with the firefight, which suggested the elite commandos were conducting an offensive operation with the aim of establishing an outpost.

According to the anonymous official, US forces were conducting a multi-day operation with Nigerien troops. The official said that the operation’s aim was to clear the area of hostile forces so that a new outpost could be created, which would be very advantageous to US aims in the region.

The location of the offensive near Diffa, a town in southeastern Niger close to the border with Nigeria, is a region long inflamed with conflict between the joint Nigerien-US forces and the Islamist militia Boko Haram, which has been warring in northern Nigeria, with frequent cross-border skirmishes and raids.

The criminal character of US Special Forces deployed to West Africa was underscored by the arrest of two Navy Seals in Mali for the June 2017 murder of Logan Melgar, a Green Beret stationed at the US embassy in Bamako. US Special Forces troops were deployed to the West African nation to conduct intelligence and training operations against Al Qaeda-affiliated militants waging war against the US/French-backed government.

According to military officials investigating the murder, the two Navy Seals who were also stationed at the embassy were allegedly pilfering cash from a slush fund made available by the embassy to pay informants. When Melgar discovered the skimming operation and threatened to alert authorities, the two Seals killed him.

Joshua Geltzer, the senior director of counter-terrorism with the National Security Council under then president Barack Obama, sought to place the blame for keeping the war in Niger secret entirely within the context of the Trump administration and thereby obscuring the role of the Democratic president who initiated the military intervention in Niger.

“It’s disappointing to see this administration show disrespect for Congress’s effort to obtain public answers to key legal questions of our time”, Geltzer told the New York Times.

As the WSWS has reported, Washington has been building and expanding its military forces on the African continent beginning with the Republican George W. Bush administration and continuing through Obama and Trump as part of America’s imperialist strategy for Africa.

The ongoing conflict in Niger and the wider region is the outcome of the 2011 US-backed NATO bombardment of Libya, in which the Obama administration utilized Islamist militias to conduct a regime change operation that culminated with the assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and thousands of Libyans killed by NATO bombs. Libyan society was completely destroyed, and the Islamist fighters that Washington armed spilled forth from Libya across the Sahel and into West Africa.

Furthermore, the development of American military outposts across the African continent must be seen within the context of China’s growing economic influence across the continent. Washington perceives Beijing as an intolerable rival for Africa’s vast economic resources, which includes substantial reserves of minerals, oil, gas, and precious metals and is using its vast military power in an effort to offset China’s economic clout.

Over the weekend, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) conducted its first ever drone strike against Al-Qaeda militants in the southern Libya, killing two militants in the southern village of Ubari. The attack marks a new stage in the expansion of the American military offensive in Libya and northern Africa since the Trump administration took office. Notably, the strike was not accompanied by a public acknowledgement from AFRICOM: here.

Republican Senator James Inhofe of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper outlining a proposal that would constitute an increase in troop levels deployed under AFRICOM, as well as broadening the American military’s footprint across Africa: here.

TRUMP POLICIES AIDED AFRICA SLAUGHTER How Trump’s “America First” policies exacerbated a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [Vice News]

TRUMP TALKS AMBUSHED SOLDIERS IN OMAROSA TAPE A newly released audio tape from former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman reveals the president making light of the deaths of four U.S. soldiers who were killed in 2017, in an ambush in Niger. According to CNN, the White House revamped its phone policy in recent months amid the paranoia prompted by Omarosa’s continued revelations. [HuffPost]

United States drones threaten Niger

This 4 December 2017 video from the USA is called US Starts Bömbing 8th Country, Níger.

From The Intercept:

Drones in the Sahara

A Massive U.S. Drone Base Could Destabilize Niger — and May Even Be Illegal Under Its Constitution

Late in the morning of October 4 last year, a convoy of Nigerien and American special forces soldiers in eight vehicles left the village of Tongo Tongo. As they made their way between mud-brick houses with thatched roofs, they were attacked from one side by dozens of militants, if not hundreds. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Nigeriens and Americans fled, some on foot, running for cover behind trees and clusters of millet, their boots caked in the light brown earth. By the time the fighting was over, five Nigeriens and four Americans were killed, their bodies left naked in the bush after the militants took their uniforms.

The news went straight to the front pages in the United States and sparked a conflict between the family of one of the soldiers and President Donald Trump, after the president made insensitive remarks during a condolence call to the soldier’s widow. But the story also spread like wildfire throughout Niger, where the big news wasn’t so much that American soldiers had been killed, but that Americans soldiers were fighting in the country in the first place.

“I was surprised to learn that Americans had died in the Tongo Tongo attack”, Soumana Sanda, the leader of an opposition party in the Nigerien Parliament and taekwondo champion, told me in an interview in his pristine and sparsely decorated office in Niamey, the country’s quiet capital on the banks of the Niger River. “That was the moment I found out, as a Nigerien, as a member of parliament, as a representative of the people, that there is indeed (an American) base with ground operations.”

It was the same on the street. Moussa, a middle-aged man who sells children’s textbooks and novels on a busy corner in Niamey, captured the feelings of many I talked with. “We were surprised”, he said. “For us, this is another form of colonization.” Out of apprehension that he could get in trouble for voicing his views openly, he declined to give his last name.

In fact, U.S. Special Operations forces have been in Niger since at least 2013 and are stationed around the country on forward operating bases with elite Nigerien soldiers. What happened in Tongo Tongo is just a taste of the potential friction and instability to come, because the pièce de resistance of American military engagement in Niger is a $110 million drone base the U.S. is building about 450 miles northeast of Niamey in Agadez, a city that for centuries has served as a trade hub on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, not far from Mali, Algeria, Libya and Chad. In January, I hopped aboard an aging plane that followed a roundabout route to one of America’s largest-ever military investments in Africa, its latest battleground in an opaque, expensive, and counterintuitive war on the continent.

Flying into Agadez requires a tour around Niger’s countryside. I boarded a 30-year-old Fokker 50 propeller plane that is owned by Palestinian Airlines and leased to state-owned Niger Airlines with a Palestinian crew. After stopping in the southern cities of Zinder and Maradi, we descended on Agadez, its rectangles and triangles of compounds and dirt roads forming a mosaic, with the surrounding reddish beige of the desert stretching out in all directions as far as the eye can see.

On the southeast edge of the civilian airport, accessible by tracks in the sand used mainly to exit the town, is Nigerien Air Base 201, or in common parlance “the American base”, The base, scheduled for completion in late 2018, is technically the property of the Nigerien military, though it is paid for, built, and operated by Americans. It is being constructed on land formerly used by Tuareg cattle-herders. So far, there is one large hangar, ostensibly where the drones could be housed, a runway under construction, and dozens of smaller structures where soldiers live and work.

The air strip will be large enough for both C-17 transport planes and MQ-9 Reaper armed drones, as The Intercept’s Nick Turse found out in 2016. A Nigerien military commander with direct knowledge of the base, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, told me that it will be mainly used to surveil militants like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Mourabitoun, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and local Islamic State affiliates including Boko Haram, which operate in border zones in neighboring countries. The U.S. currently flies drones out of an airport in Niamey, but those operations will be shifted to Agadez once the new base is completed.

American Special Forces operate separately from the drone base, which is run by the Air Force. The Green Berets are on the ground “training” Niger’s special forces and carrying out capture missions with them from the outposts of Ouallam near the Malian border, Aguelal near the Algerian border, Dirkou along the main transport routes between Niger and Libya, and Diffa, along the southeastern border with Nigeria and Chad, according to the same Nigerien commander. I’ve actually seen them at the Diffa base, a prominent local journalist has seen them at Dirkou, and I spoke to a person who worked at the Aguelal base.

When asked to confirm the American presence in those areas of Niger, U.S. Africa Command spokesperson Samantha Reho replied, “I cannot provide a detailed breakdown of the locations of our service members in Niger due to force protection and operational security limitations. With that said, I can confirm there are approximately 800 Department of Defense personnel (military, civilian, and contractor) currently working in Niger, making that country the second-highest concentration of DoD people across the continent, with the first being in Djibouti at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.”

The U.S. is just one of several Western militaries that have established and strengthened military ties to Niger over the past few years. France has had soldiers in the country since 2013, when it launched Opération Serval in neighboring Mali. In 2015, France reopened a colonial fort in Madama, close to the border with Libya — unthinkable during the times of Moammar Gadhafi; the Libyan leader maintained a sphere of influence in the region that would have been at odds with a French military presence. Germany sent its own troops in Niger to support the United Nations peacekeeping mission across the border in Mali, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel even visited Niger in 2017. And Italy recently announced it would send 470 troops to a French base in the north of Niger to fight migrant transporters.

I tried to find out what people think of the base and the drones that will soon be hovering overhead. After all, this was the biggest foreign military base in the region, an unprecedented uptick in Western involvement, as well as a major economic investment. But after a few days in Agadez speaking to a host of different people, I got the impression that the issue was taboo, and that very few people wanted to openly voice their concerns lest they be tagged with criticizing the current Nigerien administration, which could come back to haunt them.

I visited a school in Agadez and the principal, extremely hesitant about my presence, called me into a back room and declined to give his name. He told me that he couldn’t have an opinion on the Americans because he couldn’t figure out why they were really here. In my two weeks in Niger, I heard theories that the Americans were fomenting the terrorists themselves, digging for
gold, or they’re after uranium, or oil, or even possibly the natural water aquifer beneath the Sahara, one of the largest in the world. Other than government officials, no one believed the Americans were here for security.

The base is a mystery for a reason. AFRICOM, which is the division of the Department of Defense that oversees U.S. military operations in Africa, has only allowed access to one news outlet so far that I know of, CNN, and denied me entry for this reporting trip. The public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Niger responded to repeated requests for an interview by saying they were processing the request and then eventually refused to answer my questions, explaining they were understaffed due to the three-day government shutdown in late January.

AFRICOM is notoriously restrictive in its access to reporters. A journalist for The Intercept was not allowed to visit another drone base in Cameroon, and people there were also cautious about discussing or criticizing it. This underlines a transnational fact: It’s not clear that American drones in Africa have made things safer. They are often more a source of fear than anything else.

The base in Agadez is about 6 square kilometers, though most of the land is yet to be developed. American troops patrol its perimeter, according to a neighboring village chief I talked with. The base is tucked away and hidden from Agadez first by the 8-to-10-foot wall that separates the city of 125,000 from the airport, and it is surrounded by a barbed wire fence with sandbags, so despite there being a few hundred Americans in Agadez, you would hardly know they were there unless you went looking. Both the Nigerien and the American governments prefer to keep it this way.

There is an unusual question floating around Niger: Is the American base even legal? Activists, lawyers, and opposition politicians say it is isn’t, arguing that it violates Articles 169 and 66 of the Nigerien Constitution. These state that defense treaties require parliamentary approval – which hasn’t happened with the base — and that the defense of Niger is carried out only by Nigerien armed forces, not foreign forces. In an interview, opposition Member of Parliament Soumana Sanda told me that while he and his party, Moden Lumana, support the American military presence in his country, “just because we don’t respect democracy or rule of law in Niger doesn’t mean we should drag the great democracies of the world into illegality.”

The government’s defense of the base’s legality often fluctuates. The interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum, said in January during a speech for the 27th anniversary of the president’s political party that because the American and French parliaments never debated the bases, Niger shouldn’t have to either. “The protocols we signed are not defense agreements. If they were, they would be for our partners, too”, Bazoum told a cheering crowd of cadres clad in the ruling party’s signature pink sashes.

I showed the U.S.-Nigerien Status of Forces agreement, which is available to the public on the State Department website, to Soumana Sanda and Justice Minister Marou Amadou, as well as a leading constitutional lawyer, a member of Niger’s constitutional court, and a prominent NGO head. None of them had ever seen the document and were surprised that it was available online. When I read one sentence from the agreement to Sanda —  that “the Parties waive any and all claims (other than contractual claims) against each other for damage to, loss, or destruction of the other’s property or injury or death to personnel of either Party’s armed forces or their civilian personnel arising out of the performance of their official duties in connection with activities under this Agreement” — he responded, “I wasn’t aware of all this”. He added, “Today I learned a little more” about the terms of American engagement. The base is rarely reported on by the Nigerien media, and most people who knew about it before Tongo Tongo got their information from foreign media reports.

The divide over the base’s legality and its value for Niger tends to fall under sharp lines based on proximity to the power structure. For instance, in Niamey I interviewed Brig. Gen. Mahamadou Abou Tarka, whose brother-in-law, Ahmed Mohamed, was recently named armed forces chief of staff. Tarka heads a $600 million fund for peace in the north of the country set up by the presidency, and he batted away questions about American mission creep. Before being escorted by bodyguards from his air-conditioned office to his chauffeured black sedan, Tarka told me that the government didn’t need to go through parliament because “we have not declared war, so the executive power considers it in its purview to strengthen the capacity of our military by bringing in allies.”

Any member of parliament can ask questions in parliament about the base, and one-tenth of parliament can call for an official inquiry into its legality. There are more than enough opposition MPs to do so, but so far they haven’t acted on their own questions about the base’s legality. Sahirou Youssoufou, journalist and editor-in-chief of L’événement newspaper, said it’s because at the end of the day, the opposition values good relations with the Americans over constitutional law. “These are political calculations. They don’t want to get in power and have all these partners at their back, their relations with them tainted”, Youssoufou told me.

The irony is that while the American presence is supposed to help keep the country stable, the U.S. has participated with the Nigerien government in a constitution-bypassing maneuver that undermines the country’s already-fragile democratic process.

In the meantime, sightings of white soldiers in the desert animate residents’ imaginations and WhatsApp conversations. U.S. Special Forces seem to be involved in far-flung operations that go beyond the mandate of training Nigerien soldiers — Tongo Tongo is not the only example — and generate a lot of confusion, even among the government and its military.

For example, on a recent afternoon, local journalist Ibrahim Manzo Diallo received a video of a Tuareg woman and her two small children in the bush. She recounted how Nigerien and white soldiers abducted her husband and her husband’s friends, who had been camping in a nomadic tent outside Arlit, north of Agadez.

Curious about this incident, Diallo and I called the local prefect, Aghali Hamadil, who said that a mixed American and Nigerien patrol had indeed stormed a Tuareg camp, and while they released eight people, including the woman and her children, they detained four others and sent them to Niamey. When I asked Marou Amadou, the justice minister, whether this was true, he affirmed the account. “Yes, it’s the Americans. … They were looking for Goumour”, he said, referring to Goumour Bidika, who is “the main facilitator” for drug traffickers and terrorists in the Agadez region, according to a Nigerien commander with direct knowledge of the operation.

But that commander said Americans didn’t participate in the operation itself — the woman in the video who said she saw white soldiers had probably seen them at the Americans’ Aguelal base where the Tuareg captives were detained. The commander, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said Bidika had been communicating with several terrorists they were looking for, and that he had escaped during the raid; four of his lieutenants were detained at Aguelal and sent to a Niamey prison instead.

Aguelal, west of Arlit, is near the Algerian border, and the secret American base there is a recent one. Its existence was partially confirmed in February, inadvertently, when it was discovered that Strava, a fitness app used mostly by westerners, had released location data that showed the global movements of the users of workout trackers like Fitbit — and the data showed unusual activity in far-off Aguelal.

Reached via email after the operation, Reho, the AFRICOM spokesperson, said “U.S. forces were not involved in any arrests in that region within the past week.”

After NATO’s bombing of Libya in 2011 and the subsequent fall of Gadhafi, Agadez emerged as a main hub of migration of Africans to Europe – a trend that brought much-needed economic activity to the impoverished Agadez region. However, the economic spurt that surrounded migration has been throttled in the past few years by Nigerien police and military activity in the area, and the addition of American forces in Agadez will not help the situation.

Young men and women from all over West Africa ride buses to Agadez, and then pay hundreds of dollars to sit on top of yellow water jugs in the back of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, holding onto pieces of wood to keep them aboard as they speed across the desert to enter Libya on their way to Europe. Up until 2015, the pickups were escorted north in convoys led by the Niger military for safety, and the migrants were made to pay bribes to Nigerien officials at checkpoints along the way.

Agadez depended on this industry for vital income, and the authorities profited from bribes the migrants paid. Things began to change when the city attracted media attention for the migration activity. The European Union held a joint summit with African nations in Valletta, Malta, and resolved to “set up a joint investigation team in Niger against migrant smuggling and trafficking.”

In 2015, the Nigerien government passed a law that targeted smugglers and human traffickers. With the legal backing and the political push from the European Union, by 2016 the government began arresting the drivers of migrants and impounding their vehicles. It also carried out patrols in the desert to turn back cars before they reached Libya. “By all accounts, the impetus behind passing this law was … European policymakers and European governments coming to Niger and saying, ‘You need to have a migrant smuggling law on the books’”, said journalist and researcher Peter Tinti, who has co-written a book on migration in the Sahel.

Once again, Western governments were forcing the Nigerien government to engage in legally dubious activity. Under Nigerien law, all citizens of West Africa have freedom of movement within Niger up until the Libya border, and most migrants making the journey aren’t coerced into doing so. Therefore, because trafficking is against the law only if a person is being transported against their will, the only crime that can be prosecuted is crossing into Libya without a visa. But since 2011, the central Libyan government recognized by the U.N. does not control the border with Niger, and the militias that control the southern towns in Libya ask for money, not visas, according to migrant transporter Bachir Amma. So the EU is trying to stop a flow of migrants that does not appear to break any local laws.

With their cars impounded, Agadez’s migrant transporters are now without jobs. The government does not seem to care. During an interview on the leather sofas in his office in Niamey, Justice Minister Marou Amadou laughed about the travails of Mohamed Anacko, the president of the Agadez Regional Council. “Anacko calls me whining all the time,” Amadou said. “I tell him, ‘Anacko, you can cry all you want, but it will continue’” — referring to regular police sweeps against migrant smugglers.

The EU had promised money to people involved in migrant transportation to start small businesses, but the “people who formerly worked in the migration industry are growing increasingly frustrated”, according to a report by the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands. Migrant transporter Bachir Amma said that 6,550 people registered as ex-participants in the migrant industry, and he himself had been approved for a $2,800 grant to start a restaurant in Agadez six months ago, but he still hasn’t seen the money. The Niger government also shut down a popular gold-mining site in the north of the country for opaque reasons, compounding the economic hardship.

The European response has been to ratchet up the number of soldiers in the country. The Italians opened an embassy in Niger in January 2018, shortly after they announced that they were sending troops to the north of the country to fight migration. It’s another sign that individual European governments decided they couldn’t depend on the EU as a bloc to protect their borders, and have been aggressively pursuing their own anti-migrant agendas in Africa. In 2017, for instance, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti struck deals with southern Libyan tribal leaders in an attempt to stem migration before people get a chance to cross the Mediterranean, in effect pushing Europe’s southern border into the Sahara.

The American base isn’t likely to bring reprieve to the region either. Despite the total cost of $110 million for construction and roughly $15 million in operating costs per year, very little of that money will go to the local economy. A young man who worked in the cafeteria of the base showed me the agreement he signed with the contractor that runs the cafeteria, Sakom. He was paid roughly $1.20 per hour, a low salary in Niger, and said he only got one day off every two weeks, working 12-hour days (the contract showed the hourly rate, but not the overtime or the number of days off). Most food, other than some fruits and vegetables, is shipped in from abroad. When I drove around the base’s perimeter with my colleague Diallo, a Sakom security vehicle began following us. Sakom’s representative in Agadez declined an interview request for this article.

The Americans have done very little to help people in Agadez, other than holding a handful of workshops that appeared to be ineffective. Zara Ibrahim, head of the Association of Women Against War in Agadez, facilitated a workshop in which U.S. soldiers demonstrated to a group of mothers how to brush their teeth. Despite the fact that no one in the room needed to be taught how to brush their teeth, over 60 women came, according to Ibrahim, who told me about the workshop while sitting on a plastic mat on the floor of her association’s office. A strong gust of wind kicked up sand outside the building we were sitting in, and passing residents leaned forward and shielded their faces with their elbows. “Some women thought they would get something out of it. … They told us they would prefer 50 kilo bags of rice instead of toothbrushes”, she admitted.

Other workshops have included manuals on hand-washing and sexually transmitted infections, while soldiers donated some benches and notebooks to a local school. Some people appreciate the contact, but it hasn’t offered them much help. Ibrahim doesn’t understand why the local government never even explained what the Americans are doing in Agadez, arguing that the lack of communication lends itself to conspiracy theories, and that the political consequences can be dire. “It would be really easy to communicate to people in Agadez”, Ibrahim said, adding that “there’s a concrete example in Mali” of what happens if the local population is kept in the dark. In 2012, rebels and jihadi groups allied with Al Qaeda took over northern Mali following a Tuareg rebellion. As Ibrahim put it, northern Mali “woke up one morning under occupation.” The jihadi groups occupied the country’s three northern regions for nine months, until a French, Chadian, and Malian military intervention pushed them out of the towns and into the desert.

By staying behind their barbed-wire fences and providing little economic support to Agadez, the Americans run the risk of destabilizing the region. As Ibrahim remarked, “anyone can understand that.”

The man in the middle is Mahamadou Issoufou, the president of Niger. In power for six years, he has adopted a clear strategy for trying to keep control of things – by aligning himself closely with Europe and the United States, while presiding over an electoral system that his opponents describe as rigged. This is not a recipe for stability in a country that has had little of it since its founding in 1960, at the end of French colonial rule.

Issoufou is a trained engineer and a former secretary-general of Somaïr, a uranium mine that was run by the French company Areva. Until migration and terrorism, uranium was the focal point of outside, particularly French, interest in Niger. France’s electricity grid is powered by nuclear energy, and Areva’s uranium concessions in Niger provide up to one-fifth of the uranium necessary to power that grid. Issoufou’s predecessor, Mamadou Tandja, had sparred with the French over the concession, and in 2009, then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Niger to negotiate a deal on opening a new mine called Imouraren. After a $1.2 billion deal was struck, Tandja tried to reverse the constitution to stay in power for a third term, and after street protests, a group of low-ranking army officers carried out a coup d’état.

When the transition period ended with Issoufou’s election in 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan caused a sharp downturn in global uranium prices. Areva dropped its plans for Imouraren, and Issoufou acquiesced to the French firm’s plans for delaying the mine until prices rose, denting economic growth prospects for the country. But despite losing out on Imouraren, Issoufou quickly became a donor darling and found that the closer he was to France and the West, the better his image and the more firm his hold on political power. Issoufou was criticized heavily for going to Paris to attend the “Je Suis Charlie” march in January 2015, and some human rights organizations view him as a lackey of the West. He works with Image Sept, a French firm with close ties to the Parisian political elite, to manage his image.

A couple of months before his re-election in 2016, Issoufou jailed his main political opponent and former close ally, Hama Amadou of the Moden Lumana party. Amadou was accused of trafficking babies from Nigeria — a charge that Amadou vehemently denies, but which few political observers in the country have cast serious doubt on. His party boycotted the election yet still managed to finish second, behind Issoufou’s 92 percent. The opposition coalition called the election “a sham”, while the EU didn’t send an observer mission, which is rare in West Africa. Amadou is now in exile in France, having been released from prison temporarily for medical treatment.

Issoufou has taken unprecedentedly pro-Western stances on a number of key issues. He has allowed for the rapid expansion of the French and American troop presence, as well as opening up the country to German and Italian soldiers. He has shut down migration on Europe’s demand, against the economic interests of his own country. He has been rewarded for his efforts by French President Emmanuel Macron, who lauded Issoufou as “an example” of democracy on a recent state visit to Niger. And Issoufou has rewarded those in his administration who follow his vision: A couple of days after our interview, Issoufou had promoted Mahamadou Abou Tarka from colonel major to general.

Amadou, the justice minister, says the real reason the opposition complains about the foreign soldiers in Niger is because they are “interested in demoralizing our troops.” Amadou’s voice rose at this point in the interview. “They tell the soldiers, ‘They don’t have respect for you, they’re bringing bases in and the only way to restore our dignity is to get rid of them.’ These are calls for a coup d’état.”

His phone began buzzing, and he paused our conversation to take a call. It was son excellence, the new Italian ambassador, and Amadou’s mood lifted. “Happy new year. … For the judge? …  I know him very well. … That will be in what domain? I’ll tell you what, we should meet early next week”, he told the ambassador.

Amadou is right to worry about a coup d’état. In 2010, he was a leading member of the civil society opposition to Tandja, the president at the time, and supported the coup that overthrew him in February of that year. Amadou was named leader of the transitional legislative body by the junta, and when he helped usher elections that Issoufou won, he was rewarded with the post of justice minister. He has held the post ever since. During his eight years as garde des sceaux, he hasn’t prosecuted any participants in the 2010 coup nor the transitional government for any wrongdoing, despite blatant corruption detailed by Transparency International. This is because when Amadou was the head of the transitional legislative body in 2010, he helped pass a new constitution that included an entire article guaranteeing amnesty for those involved in the coup, as well as their accomplices. Meanwhile, a number of soldiers have been arrested and convicted for coup plots during Issoufou’s two terms.

As a region, West Africa is no stranger to military power seizures. In neighboring Burkina Faso, the American-trained elite presidential guard carried out a coup that eventually failed in 2015, while an American-trained captain named Amadou Sanogo led a destabilizing coup in Mali in 2012. Niger has had four coups since 1960.

Many people I spoke to in Niger feel their country has had its autonomy usurped by Westerners. “The reality is that Niger is not at a level where it can say yes or no to the French or Americans. … We only have sovereignty on paper,” said Djibril Abarché, president of the Nigerien Human Rights Association. When I asked Amadou, the justice minister, if his country has effectively ceded its military command to Westerners, he balked and explained that the Americans “don’t give orders to our generals, they give orders to our soldiers.”

Is the American presence helping security at all? It’s up for debate. “If I put guards in front of my house to stop criminals from entering and the criminals still come, are the guards worth anything?” asked the secretary-general of Niger’s Islamic University, Seydou Boubacar Touré. “We have the American base, the French base, but Boko Haram continues to kill us. … I don’t see their utility here.” Attacks along the border with Mali and in the southeast on the border with Nigeria have been frequent for years. During my time in Niger, a Boko Haram attack in Diffa killed seven Nigerien soldiers and injured 25.

According to AFRICOM, based in Germany, “U.S. Forces are in Niger to work by, with, and through Nigerien partners to promote stability and security while enabling them to address their security threats.” The word “through” leaves the most question marks. Prior to the disastrous mission in Tongo Tongo, the U.S. had said that its troops were only in an advisory role in Niger. It’s a peculiar role. “It is a training mission,” Mahamadou Abou Tarka, the general, said about Tongo Tongo. The Americans were “training those (Nigerien) special forces in the area. It just so happens that those special forces received a mission to go and capture a terrorist”, he said.

The Tongo Tongo ambush is instructive because, according to Nigerien soldiers interviewed for this article, the American soldiers were in charge of the mission and didn’t listen to Nigerien advice. The soldiers had spent the previous day looking for Doundoun Cheffou, who is connected to militant group leader Abu Walid, in a village called Akaba across the border in Mali. Instead of Cheffou, they found food and other goods indicating he and his men were in the area.

Rather than going directly back to their Nigerien base in Ouallam, they continued looking for him and when night fell, they set up camp 5 kilometers from Tongo Tongo, where the village chief had been known to give false alerts, according to a top Nigerien military officer with direct knowledge of the operation. By spending the night along the border area, they heightened the risks that they faced. There is talk of a sort of competition between the French and U.S. militaries, with each willing to undertake risky missions to prove there is a reason for them to be on the ground. However, Andrew Lebovich, Sahel specialist and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said, “It’s not really a competition, so much as they both have priorities and a desire to work with the government. Sometimes those priorities overlap, sometimes they don’t.”

It is precisely this logic that is so dangerous: American troops are deployed in an advisory and training role. But once on the ground, there is a tendency to push for more activity and engagement, and the Nigeriens have to consistently push back against that. A Nigerien officer with direct knowledge of the Agadez base said on condition of anonymity that what the Americans can and can’t do is a point of discussion on a daily basis. “I say no to the Americans every day,” he said.

The risks the Americans take result in mistakes, and the mistakes, rather than leading to a reconsideration of the risks, can lead to more escalation. After Tongo Tongo, for example, Niger authorized the U.S. to arm its drones in the country, though there are reports that ground missions by the U.S. may face greater scrutiny.

Sitting in the living room of his house in Agadez with his young daughter, Abbas Yahaya, a prominent imam, told me that he is concerned the American drones won’t be able to tell the difference between militants and regular convoys in the desert, who are often armed for protection against criminality. “A drone is manned by people on a military base in America, and many times they make mistakes, killing people who aren’t extremists”, he said. “This won’t solve anything; it will only bring more insecurity.”

Indeed, if a handful of Green Berets can conduct a botched mission that leads to a major escalation of the conflict, what happens when there are 2,000 to 3,000 U.S. troops operating on a base with armed drones and little to no accountability to the public?

I got the feeling that Agadez was just one or two mistakes away from a radical change in which the American military becomes the focal point of hostility. Armed drones are a major issue anywhere the U.S. uses them, but in Niger, the American base is in a major city not far from potential drone targets. Judging from the secrecy and lack of trust thus far, it’s not hard to envision a future in which an errant drone strike causes the population of Agadez to turn against the base.

The Americans don’t even need to make a mistake to get into trouble. Italian, German, and French military forces are active in the country, and if any one of them makes a mistake, they can all become targets for retribution. And the two mission that these Western militaries are engaged in – against migration and against terrorism – are at odds with each other, as Anacko, the president of the Agadez Regional Council, is trying to explain to the rest of the world.

Anacko is practically an institution in Agadez: Everyone knows him and he knows everyone. He has spent the last couple of years arguing with the government in Niamey and the EU that their anti-migrant measures are increasing youth unemployment and resentment towards “the West” at a time when Western militaries are rapidly expanding their presence on the ground. As he explains, you can either stop migration or terrorism, but not both.

When I met Anacko, he was meeting with other regional council leaders at his secondary office in Niamey, across the road from the national soccer stadium. I asked him where he saw the country headed. “In five years, maybe I’ll be a terrorist and you’ll find me in the mountains,” he said, ashing his Rothman cigarette in a blue plastic cup, desaturated by the fluorescent bulb above. I couldn’t tell if he was being serious, or if he had answered enough questions from Western journalists and researchers that he knew exactly how to pique their attention. “Would you come and interview me in the mountains?” he asked, laughing.

A knock on the door signaled the interview was over. On his way out of the office, he walked past a sign that read “Thanks to Swiss cooperation funds” that was taped on the door, and got into his chauffeured white Toyota Hilux pickup truck. I left with my colleague Omar Saley, past the fruit stands and past the smoke from meat grilled by the roadside, which wafted through the windows of our car on the cool, dry night. We had reached the Kennedy Bridge in the center of Niamey when we spotted Anacko in his truck, going to a meeting at one of the main hotels in the city. As his pickup turned, I noticed the words emblazoned on its side: “Gift from the European Union.”

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting contributed funding for this article.

Additional reporting: Omar Saley and Ibrahim Manzo Diallo

How European Union xenophobia kills Africans

This video says about itself:

The EU Silently Welcomes Slavery In Libya

1 December 2017

The European Union was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize “for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

At the same time, EU officials know that once refugees can’t make it to Europe—whether because they become enslaved in Libya or are too fearful to make the trip—they are no longer a problem for the Union.

Translated from Bram Vermeulen, Dutch NOS TV correspondent in Africa:

“You must forgive me”, words to never forget

Today, 09:36

The story of 2017 that stays with me the most was told to us on the floor of one of the ghettos in the caravan city of Agadez in Niger.

Thermo Amadou from Guinea and Diallo Mamdou Djulde told about the day when the Toyota Hilux left them and 23 others in the vast desert near the border between Niger and Libya. The driver had deviated from the route that smugglers have been using for decades between Agadez and the Libyan border.

On that route, since the beginning of the year, there are roadblocks and policemen trained by the European agency Eucap, which settled in Agadez to stop the migration to Europe. The consequence of this pressure from Brussels is that the smugglers now prefer the unpaved roads through the Sahara.

The driver of Amadou and his travel companion after a day of driving lacked petrol. In order to refuel he would drive back to the official route, but with 25 migrants in the trunk, he would certainly be arrested. So you wait here, he said. “I’ll be right back.”

Most of them got out of the trunk. Thermo Amadou remained seated. Until Pappi, the muscular Congolese persuaded him to trust the driver. “Otherwise we will all die here.” The driver never came back. They waited for him a full day.

Then they started walking. With two jerry cans containing 5 liters of water, connected to a rope that he had wrapped around his neck. Back to Agadez. Following the tracks of the Toyota Hilux. On the seventh day the Senegalese Pap Djah gave up. “Leave me behind here”, he begged the others. They had already carried him forward on his shoulders for a day. “Il faut me pardonner”, he said. “You must forgive me.”

Thermo Amadou had never forgotten those words. “Il faut me pardonner”. He sat on a stone in Agadez’s ghetto, and Diallo sat next to him with hollow eyes. They were crying. They walked nine days to tell this story. Two others did not survive the journey on foot. They buried them in the Sahara sand.

While I listened to their story together with colleague and cameraman Sven Torfinn, I told myself to never forget those words of the Senegalese Pap Djah. Every time migration from Africa to Europe is discussed again by policymakers, angry tweeps, and opinion makers at the talk show tables far from Agadez. Those apologetic words from the Senegalese minutes before his death. “Il faut me pardonner”.

Migrants dying in Algerian desert: here.

Neocolonial war in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger

French soldier in Mali with skull mask

This photo of a French Foreign Legion soldier, part of the invasion of Mali, shows the real face of that war.

That war is not “against Al Qaeda terrorism” (supported by the French government in Libya, and still in Syria). It is not for women’s rights, human rights or secularism.

It started in support of a military dictatorship.

It brings death, mainly to Malian civilians.

This war is a neo-colonial war.

The French Foreign Legion became infamous in the nineteenth century for its atrocities while imposing colonial rule in Algeria and elsewhere. Now, it plays a role in twenty-first century neo-colonialism as well.

By Thomas Gaist:

Mali war spilling into Burkina Faso, Niger

18 July 2017

Four and a half years after the January 2013 invasion of Mali by a US-backed French force, the war is spiraling toward a larger regional conflict, prompting border closures by neighboring governments, and spurring escalations by the Western governments.

Mali’s border areas are experiencing “a significant expansion of violent extremist and terrorist activities, including coordinated cross-border attacks against security posts and ransacking of border settlements,” the United Nations top official for West Africa said Thursday.

Additionally, opposition groups staged protests over the weekend in Bamako, Mali’s capital, rallying thousands of demonstrators in the name of blocking proposed legal changes that would transfer emergency powers to the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Last Monday, eight Malian troops were ambushed and killed traveling between Gao and Menaka. On Wednesday, Burkina Faso armed forces clashed with heavily armed militants along the Burkina-Mali border. On Friday, Mauritania declared its northeastern border a closed, militarized area, announcing that “any individual circulating or transiting in this part of the national territory will be treated as a military target.”

On July 8, JNIM attacked a French Army base near the town of Tessalit, killing at least three French soldiers. On July 9, JNIM fighters attacked a police station in Mobti province. In March, Mali’s main Islamist factions, Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun, the Massina factions and Al Qaida announced their merger into a new formation, Nusrat-ul-Islam, under the leadership of Iyad Ag Ghaly.

An Al Qaida branch in Mali known as the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) attacked a Nigerian garrison near the village of Tsawah along the Mali-Niger border in June.

French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Timbuktu at the beginning of July to discuss plans to expand the “G5 Sahel” multinational army, an imperialist proxy coalition established in February 2014, consisting of forces from the governments of Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. On July 2, Macron called on the G5 coalition to contribute 5,000 soldiers in support of French military activities against “terrorists, thugs and murderers.”

“This force is first going to secure the borders, particularly in the areas where terrorist groups have developed,” French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian told Le Monde.

“It doesn’t look like France will be pulling out of Mali anytime soon,” France 24 noted in response to the announcement.

Complementing expanding French military operations the German parliament voted in January to expand troop deployments in Mali from 350 to 1,000, making Mali the German military’s largest overseas mission.

The immediate causes of the Mali war flowed from the fallout from the 2011 US-NATO war against Libya. Beginning in January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg ethnic militia, launched an insurrection against the central government and established control over portions of northern Mali. In March 2012, a coup d’état led by government soldiers declaring themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR), removed President Amadou Toure from power. Rebel militia groups seized control of Malian cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in wake of the coup.

From January 2013, Paris responded with repeated waves of troop deployments, with backing from Washington. The 2013 invasion, “Operation Serval,” served as the spearhead for a major expansion of French militarism across the country’s former colonial holdings in West Africa.

In exchange for French “assistance” in stabilizing northern Mali, Paris demanded and received basing rights for its troops throughout the country. Previous Malian governments had been among the few regimes in Francophone Africa to resist such arrangements, limiting French military activities to small-scale training of local forces. Prior to 2013, French combat troops had been absent from Malian territory since their withdrawal following the country’s formal independence in 1960.

As part of “Operation Barkhane,” the successor to “Serval,” some 6,000 French ground troops, hundreds of armored vehicles, war planes, attack helicopters, and drones are now deployed throughout the Sahel. Additional German and French troops deployed under European Union flags in February 2014, for the official purpose of training of Malian units.

The American and European ruling elites are determined to tighten their grip over the Sahel, which is home to massive natural resource deposits, including uranium and numerous precious metals, and is speculated to have the largest untapped petroleum reserves in Africa.

Mali’s northern Taoudeni basin has been known to contain large gas and petroleum reserves since the 1970s. In 2011, the French firm Total claimed to have found “the El Dorado of petroleum reserves” in the northern desert region. A 2015 US geological analysis found that the Taoudeni Basin contains “160 million barrels of conventional oil, 1,880 billion cubic feet of conventional gas, 602 million barrels of shale oil, and 6,395 billion cubic feet of shale gas.”

Involvement by French, German and other European Union (EU) forces in the Sahel is part of “a major new direction in European security policy,” according to the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

For the European powers, the Sahel represents “a second front in the war on terror,” that is “building alongside a growing number of multinationals hoping to extract oil and gas reserves of Mali and Mauritania, and strong French military presence,” according to Environmental Justice Atlas. In addition to seizing control over the continent’s resources, and asserting the interests of the dominant European banks and corporations, the European powers view the militarization of the Sahel as a means to suppress the flood of refugees northward toward the Mediterranean.

These policies are aimed at reasserting the colonial order established by world imperialism during the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout the period of “decolonization” from the 1960s onward, the economies and societies of West Africa were subordinated to the needs of French imperialism through an array of mechanisms, including control over African currency reserves and raw materials, monopoly rights for French firms in all key sectors of the economy, and permanent military and police basing arrangements on African soil.

Dozens of coups d’etat have been engineered from Paris against African governments, beginning with the assassination of Togo’s head of state, Sylvanus Olympio in 1963, who made the fatal mistake of attempting to transition Togo’s economy to its own national currency. Malian President Modiba Keita met a similar fate after seeking to leave the French currency zone in June 1962.

In 1975 and again in 1989, French military officers organized the overthrow of Chadian Presidents. In 2003, French troops toppled Central African Republic (CAR) President Ange-Felix Patasse, placing in power General Francois Bozize, after Patasse sought to expel France’s military presence from the CAR. At present, nearly 2,000 French troops are operating in Central African Republic as part of “peacekeeping mission” alongside African Union troops.

More recently, in 2009, Paris organized a coup against the Madagascar government of Marc Ravalomanana, after he sought business deals with rival imperialist interests at the expense of French corporations.

“France established military bases in Africa during the colonial period, and maintained a military presence in Africa after the ‘flag independence’ of its former colonies in the 1960s,” Gary Busch wrote in an article for Pambazuka News this week.

“These agreements allowed France to have pre-deployed troops and police in bases across Africa; in other words, French army and gendarme units present permanently and by rotation in bases and military facilities in Africa, run entirely by the French. The Colonial Pact was much more than an agreement to station soldiers across Africa. It bound the economies of Africa to the control of France,” Busch noted.

Notwithstanding the incessant rhetoric about “fighting terrorism,” the thousands of Western soldiers invading Africa are sent primarily to secure strategic interests. The stage is being set for a ferocious antagonistic struggle between the major powers for control over the continent. The coming to power of the Trump administration, with its ultra-nationalist “America First” agenda, is intensifying the inter-imperialist tensions and fueling conflicts in every sub-region of Africa.

This week saw Western media issuing ominous warnings about the dangers of piracy and terrorism in the Gulf of Guinea, Niger Delta, and the Lake Chad Basin. Some 5.2 million have already been displaced by the Western-backed Chadian-led invasion of northern Nigeria, justified in the name of “fighting” Boko Haram.

The expansion of the Mali war is an advanced expression of the tendencies toward war and social breakdown at work throughout Africa and worldwide. Two and half decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the supposed “End of History,” Africa’s governments are tottering in the face of war, famine and disease. The only response of Africa’s national elites is further war preparations and deeper integration into the corporate, political and military establishments of North American and Western Europe.

3 U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED, 2 INJURED IN AMBUSH IN NIGER The Green Berets were attacked in an area known to have an insurgent presence. [Reuters]

Killings of four elite soldiers in Niger highlight vast scale of American military operations in Africa: here.

The war being conducted in West Africa by the United States in partnership with its European counterparts France and Germany, which was exposed by the killing of four US special forces soldiers in Niger earlier this month, is setting the stage for a much broader war in the region: here.

Making clear the October 4 ambush that killed four Green Berets is to be utilized as a pretext for a major escalation of American military operations in the region, Nigerien Defense Minister Kalla Mountari requested that the US deploy armed drones against reputed militants: here.

U.S. Troop Deaths in Niger: AFRICOM’s Chickens Come Home to Roost: here.

Burkina Faso: demonstrations in honor of murdered journalist: here.

Rare Egyptian vulture discovery in Niger

This video says about itself:

Egyptian Vulture – equilibrist

Azerbaijan. Turianchai reserve. June 24, 2013.

From the Vulture Conservation Foundation:

17 August 2015

Egyptian Vultures found breeding in Niger

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) – one of the smallest vultures in the world – is still declining fast across its vast range that includes Europe, Asia and Africa, and was in 2007 uplisted to Globally Endangered.

While populations in Europe are relatively well studied – although still declining fast – knowledge about the species in Africa is very poor. We know the species used to breed across the continent, from northern Africa through the Sahel zone to north Tanzania, down to south-west Angola and north-west Namibia, with a gap around equatorial Africa.

Even though data is lacking, breeding Egyptian vultures suffered a large decline in Africa too, and the species may be extinct in many countries south of the Sahara as a breeding species – although in the winter Africa receives many migrant Egyptian vultures coming from Europe.

Recently, colleagues from the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) have found that the species is still breeding in Niger – the first recent breeding record in the country. They found two pairs breeding in the Koutous Massif. This is good news for the species – incidentally, the area is close to the wintering quarters of European Egyptian vultures.

Congratulations to SCF for the fruitful work and for pushing vulture conservation in that part of the world.

Giraffes helped by photographers

This video is about Niger‘s endangered white giraffes (full documentary).

From Wildlife Extra:

Citizen science project launched to help the world’s giraffes

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) with the support of the Polytechnic of Namibia has launched a project to develop an online citizen science platform for giraffes. is an easy to use web-based application that allows people to upload their photos of giraffes they have seen, together with the location where the image was taken and any other valuable information they can supply to help in conservation efforts, such as herd size, sex and age class of the giraffe.

With the help of, GCF will be able to improve its understanding of giraffe ranges, distribution, numbers and ultimately the various species of giraffes’ conservation status across Africa.

At the same time, the charity hopes that the project will also engage people and raise awareness of the plight of giraffes in the wild.

15 years ago there were 140,000 giraffes in Africa. Today there are 80,000: here.

Chechnya offers to save second Danish giraffe Marius

This video is called Niger‘s Endangered White Giraffes (Full Documentary).

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Ramzan Kadyrov offers to adopt second Marius giraffe facing slaughter

Chechen president tells Instagram followers he is ready to take in giraffe facing death in Denmark ‘on humanitarian grounds’

Shaun Walker in Sochi

Thursday 13 February 2014 16.47 GMT

To sentence one giraffe named Marius to death may be regarded as a misfortune; to sentence two would be a catastrophe, according to Ramzan Kadyrov.

The Chechen president has used his Instagram account to offer to take in the second Marius, which, it emerged on Wednesday, has been threatened with the same fate as his namesake.

Kadyrov, who has been implicated in torture and human rights abuses, is a known animal admirer and has a huge personal zoo.

He frequently posts pictures of himself on Instagram with exotic animals, and made his offer of shelter for the second Danish giraffe on the social network.

“I read the information about the fact that in Denmark they are going to end the life of another giraffe,” wrote Kadyrov beneath photographs of lions eating the first Marius, which the Chechen leader said was killed for “invented” reasons.

“On humanitarian grounds, I am ready to take Marius in. We can guarantee him good living conditions and care for his health,” he added.

Only days after the euthanasia of a healthy young giraffe named Marius at Copenhagen zoo sparked controversy around the world, a second Danish zoo announced that it was considering a similar fate for another giraffe, also named Marius.

Jyllands Park zoo, in western Denmark, currently has two male giraffes, but has been approved to participate in the European breeding programme. If zookeepers manage to acquire a female giraffe, seven-year-old Marius will have to make way.

The first Marius was considered useless for breeding because his genes were too common. The prospect of his death prompted an international petition that garnered more than 27,000 signatures, and controversy continued after he was killed when he was dissected in front of a large crowd and then fed to lions.

A new petition to save the second Marius currently has 3,500 signatures.

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Libyan regime sends refugees to torture jails

This video says about itself:

20 Feb 2013

UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on Malian refugees in Niger who are pushed to their limits in one of the poorest countries of the world – fighting harsh conditions and hunger to survive.

While the NATO war-imposed government of Libya is unable to stop violence and torture everywhere in the country … while they are unable to prevent their own Prime Minister being kidnapped by government-financed jihadist mercenary militiamen … they are still able to act against striking oil workers.

They are also still able to act against desperate African refugees, from the bloody war in Mali (itself a consequence of the bloody war in Libya), and elsewhere.

Translated from Dutch news agency ANP:

November 29, 2013 19:49

Libyan coast guard arrests three hundred migrants

The Libyan coast guard has arrested three boats with almost three hundred Africans on board, trying to reach Europe.

The Libyan state news agency Lana reported this on Friday. Most Africans were, according to the coast guard from the West African countries Mali, Gambia, Ghana and Senegal.

The migrants were transferred to detention centers. Where the boats, registered in Malta, are now, was not reported.

In recent months, hundreds of people were killed when they tried to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, by boat. Many came from Libya, where anarchy is increasing more than two years after the fall of the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The situation now in Libya, with its labyrinth of hundreds of militias killing each other and civilians, may be “anarchy” in media parlance; but not anarchy as interpreted by anarchists.

US military personnel released after being held by Libya government: here.

Endangered Dama gazelle on Sahara camera trap

This video from the USA is called Critically endangered dama gazelle born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo takes its first step.

From Wildlife Extra:

Camera traps capture Critically Endangered Dama gazelle in Sahara

Barbary sheep, caracal and poachers also caught on camera

October 2013. Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Dama gazelle is one of the world’s rarest and most endangered antelopes. Formerly common across its grassland habitats of the Sahelian zone of Africa, it now only exists in a small handful of tiny, isolated populations in Niger and Chad.

Overhunting means just 300 Dama gazelle left in the wild

With overhunting by far the major cause for its demise, the Dama gazelle is also prone to encroachment of its preferred habitats by livestock development and agriculture, as well by severe drought and desertification. In all, there are probably no more than 300 Dama gazelles in the wild today.

Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has been working to conserve the gazelle for several years and the need for more nonintrusive ways of monitoring the presence and distribution of this shy and highly vulnerable species are urgently required to formulate viable management plans.

Community engagement

In recent years, hunters from the local population of Toubou pastoralists have been the gazelles’ main threat, with animals being shot opportunistically in ones and twos. Work with the herders and their community leaders is, however, having a positive impact.

Recognizing the value of working closely with the local people to conserve the gazelle, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute recently donated $10,000 to employ community game guards with a Dama gazelle-specific mandate to work with the local community. The two guards were recruited from among the local Toubou people to help SCF in its efforts to raise awareness locally about the plight of the Dama gazelle and serve as both ambassadors and protectors for the Dama conservation effort. The guards provide a vital link between SCF and the local people and their activities include assisting in the installation and maintenance of the camera trap grids.

Barbary sheep and caracal

The first batch of data from the camera traps is just now being analysed. As could be expected, other species besides the Dama gazelle have been caught on camera. We are particularly thrilled to report sightings of both the Barbary sheep and the locally very rare and elusive African lynx or caracal. Also captured on camera are armed poachers looking no doubt for Barbary sheep and Dama gazelles. The images was [sic] taken just several hours apart.

With this type of data and information we are far better set than before to identify hotspots for extra surveillance and key areas of passage used by the animals as they move between areas of grazing, shade, etc.

The impact that visual evidence of wildlife presence and threats is also a key factor in mobilizing support locally for action and increased vigilance.

December 2013: The world’s largest tropical desert, the Sahara, has suffered a catastrophic collapse of its wildlife populations according to a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London: here.

African Parks, a non-profit organisation that manages eight national parks and protected areas in seven countries, has announced that it has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Chad to assess the challenges and opportunities that would result from setting up the area of Ennedi as a protected one: here.

Niger Permian reptile fossil discovery


After the South African discovery of an early Triassic amphibian and a mammal-like reptile together … now a discovery from a few million years earlier, more to the north in Africa.

From the BBC:

24 June 2013 Last updated at 19:02 GMT

A bizarre reptile with knobbly growths on its head roamed a vast, isolated desert about 260 million years ago, researchers say.

New fossils from northern Niger in Africa have been described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The distinctive creature belongs to a new genus of pareiasaur – plant-eating creatures that flourished during the Permian period.

The cow-sized specimen has been named Bunostegos, which means “knobby roof”.

During Permian times, the Earth was dominated by a single supercontinent called Pangaea.

Animal and plant life dispersed broadly across the land, as documented by identical fossil species found on multiple modern continents.

But the new research by an international team supports the idea that there was an isolated desert in the middle of Pangaea with distinctive animals.

Most pareiasaurs had bony knobs on their skulls, but Bunostegos sported the largest, most bulbous ones ever seen in this group, which were common in the Middle and Late Permian, about 266-252 million years ago.

In life, these were probably skin-covered horns like those on the heads of modern giraffes.

“We can’t say for sure, but it is most likely that the bony knobs on the skull of pareiasaurs did not serve a protective function,” Dr Linda Tsuji from the University of Washington in Seattle told BBC News.

“They vary quite markedly in size and shape between different species, with some species lacking prominent knobs entirely, so I think that they were purely ornamental. The most probable use was for inter-specific (between species) or intra-specific (within species) recognition.”

Dr Tsuji and colleagues performed an analysis showing that Bunostegos was actually more closely related to older and more primitive pareiasaurs.

This led them to the conclusion that its genealogical lineage had been isolated for millions of years.

Climatic conditions may have conspired to corral Bunostegos – along with several other reptiles, amphibians, and plants – and keep them constrained to the central, arid area of the supercontinent.

“Our work supports the theory that central Pangea was climatically isolated, allowing a unique relict fauna to persist into the Late Permian,” said Christian Sidor, another author of the paper.

This surprised the scientists because areas outside this central region show fossil evidence of regular faunal interchange.

Geological data show that central Pangaea was extremely dry, discouraging some animals from passing through, while keeping those within from venturing out.

The long period of isolation under these parched conditions gave Bunostegos lineage time to evolve its unique anatomical features.

Much of what was once central Pangaea remains to be explored by palaeontologists.

“It is important to continue research in these under-explored areas,” said Dr Tsuji.

“The study of fossils from places like northern Niger paints a more comprehensive picture of the ecosystem during the Permian era.”

See also here.