The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘West Africa’ tag

Shelter from the Swarm

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Terrorsim in the Sahel region has spread far and wide. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Terrorsim in the Sahel region has spread far and wide since the French military and its local partner nations began trying to roll back salafi-jihadis beginning with their military intervention in January 2013 and morphing into Operation Barkhane in August 2014. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I’ve authored a recent article in the March edition of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review in the United Kingdom on the sprawling French-orchestrated counter terror operation called Barkane in Africa’s greater Sahara-Sahel region. The French effort has been met with mixed results at best in that during its as yet unfinished timeline, salafist terrorism has spread all the way to the Atlantic with the March 13 attack by sub-Saharan AQIM operatives on the Hotel Etoille du Sud resort in the Côte d’Ivoire’s Grand Bassam commune situated east of Abidjan in the Comoé District not far from the Ghanian border.

The Grand Bassam assault is part of what we can sadly call a distinct pattern of AQIM’s attacks well beyond its traditional theater of terror in Algeria from where it was b0rne out of the ashes of that country’s civil war. Firstly there was the attack on the Radisson Blu in Bamako’s ACI 2000 district in November followed by the siege of the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou in January. The arc of this does not appear to have any end in sight in the near term. Attacks in West Africa get nowhere near the coverage as those carried out by IS in Western capitals such as Paris and Brussels but they demonstrate that the al-Qaeda brand has a much bigger footprint in a part of the world that until very recently once essentially devoid of salafi-jiahdi cruelty.

And then there is the spreading threat posed by IS-allied Boko Haram which has deployed suicide bombers–some of them young girls–outward from northeastern Nigeria and into Cameroon’s Région de l’Extrême-Nord, Niger’s southeastern Diffa region and southwestern Chad’s lac region,  all around the the Lake Chad basin.

My article analyses the recent history of salafist violence in this part of the world with the reasonings behind continuing, geographically escalating attacks on soft, civilian targets aimed at garnering attention with mass casualty events. As I began writing it in November in the aftermath of the Bamako attack, I didn’t game out things going as far afield as southern Côte d’Ivoire so quickly (though I did see things potentially reaching the Atlantic via Senegal which thus far thankfully hasn’t played out). Curiously, Ivorian forces are not part of the five-nation alliance of sorts that participate in Barkhane. It was simply a soft target in a weak state still recovering from a vicious set of civil wars which was ill prepared for an AQIM operation.

My Barhane piece in the March 2016 issue of Jane's Intelligence Review.

My Barhane piece in the March 2016 issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review.

In the core years of the terror wars after 9/11, Africa was always a seldom reported upon, low priority in comparison to the war Afghanistan and later Iraq. Sure, there was the State Department’s Pan-Sahel Initiative and then the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership but who–excluding think tank types–today even remembers these programs which effectively amounted to nil?

Written by derekhenryflood

April 3rd, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Guinea to Gambia the Hard Way

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Guest blogger: Jason Florio

Follow Jason on Twitter at @floriophotoNYC

See Jason’s online portfolio here

New York- I’ve known photographer Jason Florio for nearly a dozen years now. Our paths have had this dramatic before-and-after symmetry. Jason shot in northern Afghanistan just before 9/11, I just after. He shot in Baghdad just before it fell, I, again, just after. Jason was in Lebanon not long before the most recent Israeli invasion, me during it in summer 2006. Jason traversed Libya when Qadaffi’s rule was unwavering, I as it was falling to pieces.

Below is an except from Jason and his wife Helen’s most recent adventure along the River Gambia beginning in Afrique l’Ouest (Francophone West Africa) and ending in the Anglophone sliver that is Gambia where Jason has been traveling for many years now. Enjoy!

“The River Gambia is one of Africa’s last major free-flowing rivers, starting as a mere trickle from under a rock in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. It meanders through the gold-rich land of south east Senegal, and through the length of The Republic of The Gambia (the country is named after the river) and enters the Atlantic Ocean having coursed it’s way for over 1100km(approx. 685 miles)  and broadened to 14km wide. Plans are afoot to build a hydroelectric dam on the river on the Senegal-Guinea border.

The dam would bring much needed power to a dark region, but would displace ancient villages, change the natural flow of the river, drastically effect the fragile eco system. The reduced flow would create greater salinity in the river further upstream, severely impacting the lives of villagers whose very survival is based on crop irrigation by the river. Documentary photographer Jason Florio, and his wife, writer/producer Helen Jones-Florio, accompanied by two Gambian fishermen followed the river for two months by canoe and motorcycle from source-to-sea.

Traveling in-part in the footsteps of 19th century explorers to the region including Mungo Park and Gaspard Mollien, their aim was to create a modern day account of the people and communities along the length of the river, before the dam stops its natural course forever.”

Fula tribesmen with swimming horses Jan 5th 2012 - 7.54am  - We spent a peaceful night at Karantaba village with the spirit of Mungo Park sharing the warmth and companionship of our fire. Scottish explorer, Park had based at Karantaba in 1795 and 1805, before setting off on two journeys to find the Niger River and ultimately where it met the Atlantic Ocean. Park found the river on his first journey, but died on the second after being ambushed by locals while on the river. In the morning I saw a small ‘barra’ (ferry) being oared across the river and next to it were two horses swimming. I ran to the edge of the water just as they were emerging and made the photograph. The horses belonged to two Fula tribesmen who were heading to a local market to sell their harvest of ground-nuts. The horses being used to pull their ‘‘seretto’  or horse-cart.

Fula tribesmen with swimming horses
Jan 5th 2012 – 7.54am – We spent a peaceful night at Karantaba village with the spirit of Mungo Park sharing the warmth and companionship of our fire. Scottish explorer, Park had based at Karantaba in 1795 and 1805, before setting off on two journeys to find the Niger River and ultimately where it met the Atlantic Ocean. Park found the river on his first journey, but died on the second after being ambushed by locals while on the river.
In the morning I saw a small ‘barra’ (ferry) being oared across the river and next to it were two horses swimming. I ran to the edge of the water just as they were emerging and made the photograph. The horses belonged to two Fula tribesmen who were heading to a local market to sell their harvest of ground-nuts. The horses being used to pull their ‘‘seretto’ or horse-cart. ©2013 Jason Florio

Hawa the rice cutter Jan 11th – 5.23pm- We moored for the night at Ka’ur village on The River Gambia. After making camp we walked towards the village to buy food. On the way we saw a group of ladies who were busy cutting rice and stacking it for drying. They insisted I came into the muddy field and help them harvest, before I could make any photographs. Once I was deemed a temporary part of their team I was allowed to take photographs of them. Hawa was the group leader and just before I was about to continue on to the village, she turned towards me with her head laden with rice, and her knife between her teeth. I made two frames before she turned again and to finish her work. She told me they cut the rice for a lady who owns the field, and are paid 30 Dalasi per day – about 80 US cents.

Hawa the rice cutter
Jan 11th – 5.23pm- We moored for the night at Ka’ur village on The River Gambia. After making camp we walked towards the village to buy food. On the way we saw a group of ladies who were busy cutting rice and stacking it for drying. They insisted I came into the muddy field and help them harvest, before I could make any photographs. Once I was deemed a temporary part of their team I was allowed to take photographs of them. Hawa was the group leader and just before I was about to continue on to the village, she turned towards me with her head laden with rice, and her knife between her teeth. I made two frames before she turned again and to finish her work. She told me they cut the rice for a lady who owns the field, and are-paid 30 Dalasi per day – about 80 US cents. ©2013 Jason Florio

A watchman relaxes on a floating jetty near the samll Gambian village of Bonto. Bonto became infamous in 2009 when a two tonne cocaine stash, with a street value of $1bn, was discovered in a riverside warehouse a few hundred meters from the jetty. The street value of the haul far exceeded Gambia's $782 million annual GDP in 2009.

Watchman on the Pier
A watchman relaxes on a floating jetty near the samll Gambian village of Bonto. Bonto became infamous in 2009 when a two tonne cocaine stash, with a street value of $1bn, was discovered in a riverside warehouse a few hundred meters from the jetty. The street value of the haul far exceeded Gambia’s $782 million annual GDP in 2009. ©2013 Jason Florio

For more images from the River Gambia Expedition, click here

Written by derekhenryflood

May 3rd, 2013 at 11:06 am