Category Archives: Conflict In Context – Field Notes

Write from experience, and experience only… Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost – Henry James, American-born writer (1843-1916)

Update: Murder of Conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin

Update to my The Daily Beast story Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

On February 4th, 76 year-old wildlife conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin was found slaughtered in his mansion in Langata, a posh residential enclave in Nairobi.

The “knife” that police and media had described as the murder weapon was more likely a panga, the Swahili word for a machete.

A source close to the investigation later told The Daily Beast that Martin had been “tortured and brutally murdered”. The source added that of all the motives land was strongest. At the time Martin had been involved in a dispute over several acres near his estate.

One acre lots in Langata are on the market for upwards of $500,000. Martin owned over 20 acres. A neighbor said he was trying to buy more “as a buffer”.

Langata residents, including Martin, were strenuously opposed the construction of a church on a lot beside Martin’s property. A Stop Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd.

While those mentioned in the stop order are not the main focus of the murder investigation, according to my source, “their involvement cannot be ruled out”.

Entrance to Esmond Bradley Martin’s estate

Church construction site next to Martin’s estate

A Stop [Construction] Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd

Unintended Consequences: A Fitness App Reveals a Secret US Military Base in Kenya

Fitness tracking Strava App reveals outlines of secret US bases (because people jog around the perimeter) around the world and as well as potentially sensitive information about military personnel on active duty.

Here’s what US Forward Operating Base Camp Simba in Lamu County, Kenya looks like.

The long vertical line in red is Camp Simba’s runway recently expanded to accommodate Hercules C-130 transport planes.

(Don’t yet see signs of Al-Shabaab – KDF running around circles in the nearby Boni forest)

Alternet : ‘Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War against al-Shabaab’

Alternet http://www.alternet.org/world/death-squads-kenya-iraq-vietnam-colombia-honduras

April, 8, 2014 — Kenya’s armed forces, bolstered by millions of dollars in U.S. aid and training, are now turning to death squad tactics against civilians who are sympathetic to an Islamist group based in Somalia.

The group is Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group that claimed responsibility for a deadly attack last year on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Al-Shabaab is a jihadist group dedicated to Islamic fundamentalism and a strict form of Islamic law, and is reportedly funded by a complex web of supporters abroad, the export of charcoal to Gulf Arab states, the slaughter of elephants for the illegal ivory trade, and according to the United Nations, Eritrea. (Eritrea backs the group to bolster its hand against rival Ethiopia, a state that invaded Somalia in 2006.)

Al-Shabaab’s Westgate mall attack came after Kenya’s 2011 invasion of Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, ostensibly to combat the country’s chronic instability that was spilling into Kenya but also to shore up key economic interests, like the profitable port in Lamu, near the Somali border. Kenyan soldiers remain in Somalia, along with thousands of other troops affiliated with the African Union, which in turn fuels al-Shabaab’s anger at Kenya.

Yesterday, the Daily Beast’s Margot Kiser, reporting from Kenya, shined a light on the likely existence of Kenyan death squads aimed at people the security forces see as Islamic preachers sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Kiser wrote that there had been a spate of murders in recent months. The goal of the extrajudicial executions, according to Kiser, is to “exterminate and intimidate people believed to be associated with the Al Shabaab movement in neighboring Somalia.” Religious leaders told Kiser that Kenyan security forces “are targeting them unfairly for persecution if not indeed for summary execution,” though local authorities say they have intelligence linking imams to al-Shabaab.

Kiser profiled one death squad target in particular: Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, an Islamic preacher who admitted to recruiting young people to wage war on the Kenyan government. He preached at the Musa mosque, allegedly associated with Islamist extremism. On February 2nd, Kenyan authorities raided the mosque, leading to clashes that resulted in the deaths of eight people, including a policeman.

The preacher, Ahmed, was gunned down on Tuesday when a car pulled up and people inside sprayed him with bullets. It’s unclear who exactly was responsible, but suspicion rests on Kenyan security forces. A dirty war is being waged on Kenya’s streets, and is likely to intensify.

The U.S. has denied that it has anything to do with the death squads, claiming it has trained Kenyan security to operate in line with human rights. But those claims are dubious. America’s involvement with Kenya’s anti-terror forces is deep. Since 2003, the U.S. has given Kenya $50 million to fight terrorism; the country is one of the five recipients of U.S. anti-terror financing. And the U.S. and the U.K. provide training for Kenya’s fight against al-Shabaab.

The claims of no U.S. involvement are all the more dubious since the U.S. has partnered with Somali militias to hunt down al-Shabaab members, and because of the extensive record of U.S. support for death squads in other countries. Whether in the context of the Cold War or the war on terror, America’s support for death squads has allowed the U.S. to stand back while proxy forces achieve its goals by engaging in the most unsavory of activities: extrajudicial assassinations.

Here are five other countries where the U.S. has supported death squads.

1. Iraq

America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq unleashed immense suffering, repression and a brutal civil war drawn on sectarian lines. One of the ways the U.S. fueled the sectarian civil war was by organizing and training death squads, largely to target Sunni Arab resistance to the new political order in the country. (Saddam Hussein systematically repressed Shiite Iraqis, and the tables were turned after America invaded and deposed Hussein.)

The first reports of U.S.-trained and -armed Shiite death squads emerged in 2005. An editorial by the Washington Post then noted that there was a “campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces.” The full extent of U.S. involvement became known when, in 2013, the Guardian and BBC Arabic conducted an investigation that shed more light on the squads.

Run by Colonel James Steele, a close adviser to General David Petraeus, the paramilitary squads tortured Iraqi prisoners and eventually evolved into death squads. Their goal was to torture Sunni prisoners for information about the resistance to U.S. forces.

As theGuardian reported, “the long-term impact of funding and arming this paramilitary force was to unleash a deadly sectarian militia that terrorised the Sunni community and helped germinate a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.”

2. El Salvador

Colonel James Steele’s involvement with Iraq’s death squads came over two decades after he was involved in a similar effort in El Salvador. In 1979, a military coup sparked a brutal civil war pitting the U.S.-backed government against left-wing rebels, inaugurating one of the most bloody chapters of the Cold War in Latin America.

Steele arrived in El Salvador in 1984, where he assumed control of U.S. special forces that trained Salvadoran military units that acted as death squads. The U.S. support for these death squads became known as the “Salvadoran Option.”

These Salvadoran units murdered an untold number of people, probably thousands of Salvadorans thought to be sympathetic or part of the rebel effort. They came to notoriety in 1980 whenfour American nuns were beaten, raped and killed by a death squad. In fact, as journalist Allan Nairn wrote in the Progressive in 1984,Salvadoran military death squads were set up earlier. “During the Kennedy Administration, agents of the US government in El Salvador set up two official security organizations that killed thousands of peasants and suspected leftists over the next fifteen years,” Nairn reported. “These organizations, guided by American operatives, developed into the paramilitary apparatus that came to be known as the Salvadoran Death Squads.”

3. Honduras

Since the overthrow of a leftist president in 2009, the U.S. has bolstered support for the right-leaning Honduran government. Part of that effort has been funding Honduran police, even when they engage in death squad activities. The execution targeting suspected gang members are part of the U.S.-backed drug war in the region.

In March 2013, the Associated Press published an expose of these death squads and the U.S. support for them. The State Department has spent millions of dollars a year on the Honduran police. While the U.S. claims the money only goes to vetted and specially trained units, the AP reported that all the police squads are controlled by one man: Juan Carlos Bonilla, who has been linked to death squad activity in the past as well.

“In the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula,” the AP reported. “The country’s National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the ’18th Street’ gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.”

4. Colombia

This long-standing U.S. ally was one of the first countries where the U.S. set up death squads. The Colombian government has long been engaged in a battle against the FARC, a leftist rebel group.

In 2007, historian Greg Grandin documented the history of America’s Colombian death squads in Salon. In 1962, the Kennedy administration sent General William Yarborough to the country to set up a unit to “execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents.”

“The point of death squads was not just to eliminate those thought to be working with the enemy, but to keep potential rebel sympathizers in a state of fear and anxiety,” wrote Grandin.

5. Vietnam

The U.S. war in Vietnam in the 1960s also employed death squads run by U.S. forces and South Vietnamese allies. The operations, referred to as the “Phoenix Program,” were aimed at killing suspected communist sympathizers in South Vietnam.

Members of the CIA-organized unit included Navy SEALS, Green Berets and South Vietnamese mercenary units. The “Phoenix Program” lead to the killing of an estimated 20,000 people between 1967-1972.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

http://www.alternet.org/world/death-squads-kenya-iraq-vietnam-colombia-honduras

Erik Prince in Fun City, Abu Dhabi

In 2015 Newsweek assigned me to track down billionaire Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater Security Erik Prince in South Sudan. 

Personnel from his new logistics company Frontier Services Group were rumored to have been arming both sides of the conflict in the nascent war-torn country. 

I didn’t find Prince himself but signs of FSG in Juba, and near the oil fields in the Upper Nile state, were aplenty. 

More on that later. 

In September, I passed through UAE and found Erik Prince’s “Blackwater” (note logo) catamaran docked in front of his two villas in a gated enclave in Abu Dhabi. A local realtor said they were valued at $5 million – and one was for sale. 

A view of Abu Dhabi from one of Prince’s two villas
Ferrari parked in villa garage
Catamaran with Blackwater logo

Fatal Shooting in Nairobi Reveals U.S. Security Detail (WARNING: Graphic Image)

A Kenyan man was shot dead last week outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi after he stabbed a GSU police officer guarding the compound.

Police identified the knife-wielder as Abdimahat Ibrahim Hassan, a 22 year-old from Wajir, in northern Kenya. Much of northern Kenya has been inhabited by ethnic Somalis before and since the nation’s independence in 1963. Police and some reporters were quick to conclude the ethnic Somali as belonging to the militant group, Al-Shabaab.

While an officer with the GSU, the paramilitary wing of Kenyan National Police Service, reportedly shot the man, photos from the incident reveal the presence of FBI agents, and armed foreign security detail at the embassy. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) is the federal law and security arm of the U.S. Department of State and the lead law enforcement organization overseas. Its duties include protecting U.S. diplomatic missions and U.S. diplomats and visiting foreign dignitaries, conducting criminal, counter-terror and counter-intelligence investigations abroad; advising U.S ambassadors on security matters.

The DSS sometimes outsources to private military/security companies. Blackwater is the most controversial of these. In 2015, four former Blackwater security guards received long prison sentences last year for the fatal shooting of 14 civilians in Iraq in 2007.

The State Department currently contracts companies under the  umbrella company, Constellis Group, founded in 2003 by U.S. Army Special Forces veterans. In 2014 Constellis acquired Academi (formerly Blackwater). A source close to Constellis intimated that while the company operates in Kenya, it does not provide security support at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

 

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Africa, the film 

Coffee table books and novels about Africa with ‘Africa’ in their titles seem to stand a better chance of becoming best sellers, or so I hear. “Out of Africa”, “Nowhere in Africa”, “I Dream of Africa” would seem to suggest so. 

By that formula nothing would sell Africa better than a DVD cover featuring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie swathed in amber light in a film simply titled–“Africa”. 

The couple was slated to make “Africa, a $110 million biopic about white Kenyan paleontologist turned elephant savior, Richard Leakey. 

Brad Pitt was to star as Richard Leakey. Angelina would direct. 

“Africa” was Jolie’s passion project, about “a man drawn into the violent conflict with elephant poachers, who emerged with a deeper understanding of man’s footprint and a profound sense of responsibility for the world around him”, she’d said in a statement. 

Rampant poaching in the 80s left elephant populations at their lowest. Leakey stepped in as director of the newly formed Kenya Wildlife Service. He began numerous campaigns to save the elephant. His most ambitious was induce a worldwide trade on all trade in ivory – legal and illegal. , Leakey set about finding ways to devalue the substance. Leakey borrowed from Brigit Bardot’s anti- fur campaign shaming women for wearing fur coats., and applied it to trophy hunting and women wearing ivory bangles. The mantra became, ‘Only Elephants Wear Ivory’. 

In May 1989 on international television Leakey burned 12 tons of stockpiled ivory at Nairobi National Park. 
Around the same time, Leakey had implemented a controversial shoot-to-kill policy against poachers, most of whom were ethnic Somalis. 

The policy remains in effect today. 

In April 2015, Leakey came back as chair of KWS. A few weeks later he presided over another ivory burn, this time torching 110 tons of ivory estimated to have been worth $105 million. 

Kenya banned hunting in the 70s. Despite successful publicity campaigns, some African countries like Tanzania and South Africa still allow elephant hunting. Leakey was stunned to learn that the producers of “Africa” had decided to shoot the film in South Africa. 

“I received no indication that a movie with a working title of “Africa”, would be shot in South Africa, and not in Kenya,” he told reporters in 2015. 

The 1986 Academy Award-winning film, “Out of Africa”, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, was filmed in Kenya. However, high production costs in Kenya forced filmmakers to make movies in more budget-friendly South Africa. 

Jolie had hoped to follow up a relationship drama she directed last year, which starred Pitt and herself, with “Africa”. 

But was not meant to be; Jolie filed for divorce from Brad in September 2016, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’. 

Che Guevara 

On October 9, 1967, Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, was executed by US Special Forces-trained Bolivian Army. A few months previously “El Che” had traveled to Africa to offer his guidance as a guerrilla to the ongoing conflict in the Congo. To get back to his support base in Bolivia, the Marxist diplomat disguised himself as a middle-aged Uruguayan businessman. The man seems to bear a strong resemblance to Walt Whitman Restow, National Security Advisor and chief economist to President JF Kennedy and President LB Johnson. Restow and CIA organized Che’s capture and execution.


#revolutionary #Cuba #Castro #bolivia #che #cheguevara

http://m.democracynow.org/stories/12556