Bureau Recommends: Special Forces involvement in Libya

Bureau Recommends: Special Forces involvement in Libya

by 

 
Libyan rebels- Flickr/ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty ImagesA Libyan defected soldier (2nd left) explains how to use a rocket launcher to a group of rebels

An investigation by BBC’s Newsnight reveals that British special forces were deployed in Libya.

In a report broadcast last night, Mark Urban, Newsnight’s Diplomatic Editor, revealed that British special forces intervention began as early as February 2011. Libyan rebels had set up in Benghazi, and as the conflict became more heated, the British Government decided to send a rescue mission to Southern Libya.

On February 27, a ‘couple of dozen’ SBS marines carried out three flights to rescue one hundred and fifty foreign oil workers (twenty British) from Zillah, Libya. The special forces team then flew the foreign oil workers to Valletta, Malta.

By late February the British Government had decided to back the National Transition Council (NTC) and overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

The next stage of British special forces involvement in Libya would involve the highly secretive ‘E-Squadron’. A unit jointly made up of the SAS, SBS with close links with Mi6.  By early march six special forces operatives and two Mi6 agents travelled to Benghazi to meet rebel leaders.

The mission failed. The so-called ‘Diplomatic team’ was contained by Libyan farmers. After this public embarrassment, special forces were not involved in Libya for months.

In April 2011, plain clothed British intelligence and military officials were sent to Benghazi. These unarmed advisers were tasked with helping the rebels to organise themselves.

The UN resolution prohibited ground troops being deployed in Libya or a ‘boots on the ground’ policy.

However, Special Forces from France, Britain and Qatar left Qatar and entered Libya. Urban reports that twenty men from D Squadron 22-SAS operated in small teams within Brega and Misrata.

These Special Forces teams went on to guide-in air strikes from NATO planes and may have played an integral role in identifying Gaddafi and calling in the air strike that disabled his convoy.

Watch Newsnight’s report here, or read more  here.

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India To Wage Cyber-War Against Nameless Enemies

India to greenlight state-sponsored cyber attacks

Gov agencies will get the nod

By Phil Muncaster

The Indian government is stepping up its cyber security capabilities with plans to protect critical national infrastructure from a Stuxnet-like attack and to authorise two agencies to carry out state-sponsored attacks if necessary.

Sources told the Times of India that the government’s National Security Council, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh, is currently finalising plans which would give the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) the power to carry out unspecified offensive operations.

India is also hoping to co-ordinate its defensive capabilities better, in the event of an attack which could debilitate its critical infrastructure.

The country was reportedly hit by Stuxnet, although it doesn’t appear to have caused any serious damage and was unlikely to have been a deliberately targeted attack.

With this in mind, the NTRO is likely to be called on to create a 24-hour National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIPC) to monitor threats, while sector-specific Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) will also be recommended, the report said.

The NTRO and Intelligence Bureau (IB) will be given responsibility for the security of various government networks, it added.

The Indian government is some way behind the US and UK in its formulation of a coherent national cyber security policy, and has been criticised in the past for its slow response to denial of service and web defacement attacks.

Most recently it has been under fire from hacktivist collective Anonymous in retaliation for it stance on illegal file sharing, while hackers from neighbouring rival Pakistan are thought to represent a constant threat.

Last month Symantec warned that the lack of security know-how among the country’s growing urban population and small and medium sized businesses is being exploited with increasing ruthlessness by criminals. ®

Neo-Ottoman Islamist fantasies worry European diplomats

Neo-Ottoman Islamist fantasies worry European diplomats

European Union diplomats accuse Ankara of using probes into alleged plots against government as tool to silence opponents, compromise secular credentials.

Middle East Online

By Michel Sailhan – ISTANBUL

Secularism backing down… Islamism advancing

European Union diplomats are expressing growing concern at what they see as the increasingly militant stance taken by Turkey’s ruling Islamists.

They accuse Ankara of using probes into alleged plots against the government as a tool to jail and silence opponents and compromise the country’s secular credentials by introducing Koran studies in public schools.

Other measures include lowering the age at which parents can send their children to Islamic religious schools, increasing pressure on those criticising Islam and restricting abortion.

Turkish authorities accuse the so-called Ergenekon network of being behind several plots to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dozens of retired or serving senior military figures, intellectuals, lawyers and journalists been put behind bars.

On Thursday Stefan Fuele, European commissioner for enlargement, cited this and other obstacles in the way of Turkey’s membership bid while in Istanbul for talks.

“I have used this meeting to convey our concerns about the increasing detention of lawmakers, academics and students and the freedom of press and journalists,” he said.

Changes due to take effect when the new academic year starts this autumn also have also ruffled feathers. The Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is introducing Koran lessons.

And from the end of primary school, more parents will be able to opt out of the secular education system and send their children to Islamic religious schools. Previously these schools could not recruit children under the age of 15: now children as young as 11 will be allowed to attend.

There is concern too over plans by state broadcaster TRT to launch a religious channel and proposals for prayer rooms in newly built public buildings such as creches, theatres and even opera houses.

“A series of recent moves show that the conservative tendency has the upper hand and faces no opposition,” said Marc Pierini, a former head of the EU diplomatic team in Turkey.

“Civil society exists, but it is hardly audible,” said one Ankara-based diplomat.

“The media are for the most part directly or indirectly controlled by the AKP and the opposition is powerless,” the diplomat added.

Plans to restrict the abortion laws and other moves that critics say will would make Islam a more visible part of daily life are added areas of concern.

Comments last month by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he compared abortion to a botched attack by the military that killed 34 civilians last December, brought a sharp response from a senior EU diplomat.

Erdogan had said of abortion: “You either kill a baby in the mother’s womb or you kill it after birth. There’s no difference.”

And in an emotive reference to the attack in Uludere, in which Turkish warplanes killed civilians they had mistaken for Kurdish separatists, he said “every abortion is an Uludere.”

“Some politicians made comparisons that are not appropriate,” Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, head of the EU delegation in Turkey, told journalists.

Turkey is preparing a bill to slash the time limit for abortions from 10 weeks to between four and six weeks.

Thousands of women have demonstrated against the proposed changes, defending the existing abortion law, which dates back to 1965.

Turkey’s acclaimed composer and pianist Fazil Say faces trial in October on charges of insulting religious values in a series of provocative tweets about Islam. If convicted, he could face up to 18 months in prison.

In April, Say told the Hurriyet daily that he felt completely ostracised by Turkish society since having declared that he was an atheist, an experience that for him highlighted a growing culture of intolerance.

One European diplomat in Istanbul remarked: “It’s not just the fact that he is being put on trial, but also what the pro-government newspaper Sabah says, which has made a hero out of the guy who denounced him.”

Sabah has lavished praise on the person who alerted the authorities to Say’s comments on Twitter, with one headline describing him as “The man who gives no respite to the enemies of Islam”.

Erdogan has also just announced that a giant mosque is to be built on one of Istanbul’s most hills, which will become one of the city’s most visible landmarks.

This latest announcement on top of the other developments have been seized on by the critics of Erdogan and the AKP, who suspect the government has a covert agenda to promote Islam — and undermine Turkey’s secular traditions.

“He fuelled this debate himself recently with certain utterances, one example being that he and his party wanted to see ‘the emergence of a religious generation’,” noted Semih Idiz, a leader writer for Milliyet newspaper.

“We are fighting a war in the FATA.”–Sec. of War Panetta

 
Leon Panetta (AFP Photo / Pool / Jim Watson)

Leon Panetta (AFP Photo / Pool / Jim Watson)

Hold the phone, anti-war activists. President Obama says that American troops are done with Operation Iraqi Freedom and their episode in Afghanistan is almost over. Now, though, it looks like the US is calling its operation in Pakistan an actual war.

Only one day after American officials announced that US troops executed an alleged al-Qaeda higher-up with a drone strike in Pakistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Wednesday that America’s fair-weather ally is indeed serving as a battlefront in the War on Terror.

“We are fighting a war in the FATA, we are fighting a war against terrorism,” Secretary Panetta said this week. Panetta was referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region in northwest Pakistan that is currently the scene of American airstrikes.

Since well before the top-secret raid and execution of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden brought US troops into Pakistan, the American military has tried time and time again to sugarcoat its activities overseas. Despite being an at-one-time top ally of the United States, Pakistani officials have continuously condemned the US over Uncle Sam’s continuing air strikes with unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Now after years of trying to re-develop those deteriorating ties with Pakistan, the United States’ top military man flatly called his country’s operations in FATA an actual war.

Why Putin is being so helpful to the US

[The author of the following report has Putin sized-up correctly, but only partly so.  Putin is cooperating with the US modernization of Central Asian infrastructure, because he hopes to inherit what America leaves there, but more to the point, Putin wants Russia to become a part of the West, or as Western leaders like to call themselves, “the civilized world.”  The big question remains–What is most important to Putin, merging with the West into the “New World Order,” or doing what is best for the Russian people?] 

Why Putin is being so helpful to the US 

Asia Time Online - Daily News
By Brian M Downing

The United States is now sending almost all its supplies for the Afghan war through Russia or countries obedient to Moscow. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan would not allow US convoys had Russian President Vladimir Putin not sanctioned it. This route has taken away the leverage that Pakistani generals had over the US by virtue of the importance of the southern convoy routes.

In world affairs, one power only rarely helps another without incurring a debt, financial or otherwise. Even during World War II, the US leaned on Britain to open its empire to US commerce. Today, Putin has been exceptionally helpful to the US, despite having to endure disappointments and annoyances over the missile shield, Libya, and Syria.

He even faced an uninformed and worrisome statement from presidential contender Mitt Romney about Russia being the US’s chief foe in the world.

The Russian president might obligingly inform his potential counterpart – in the interest of greater international understanding, of course – that if he were a foe, or treated as one in the future, he could maroon an American-European expeditionary force in the foreboding mountains and deserts of Central Asia.

Accommodating foreign powers and forbearance on the world stage have not been hallmarks of Russian or Soviet foreign policy over the years.

Nor are they readily discernible in the outlooks of former KGB officers. So why is Putin being so helpful to the US? The answer lies in common interests in Afghanistan, but perhaps more importantly in common concerns over the emerging geopolitics of Central Asia.

Russia and the US share an interest in countering Islamist militancy in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In recent years Russia has faced such militants in the Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ossetia) and does not wish to see their likes regain control of Afghanistan from which militancy might readily spread into Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Russia sees these former Soviet republics as in its sphere and it has worried of pan-Islamic movements there since the days of the communists – if not those of the tsars.

The importance of US supply lines into Afghanistan, in the eyes of the Kremlin, is not limited to the war and a show of cooperation. Putin is an avid student of state power and economics and knows that during the American Civil War (1861-65), the army built up the rail and telegraphic infrastructure which contributed mightily to the nation’s subsequent economic boom; during World War II, the US built ports and air bases around the world that later expanded global commerce; and the port facilities and logistical hubs of the Vietnam war have proved useful to the Hanoi government long after the US departed in 1975.

Putin is also knowledgeable in judo, a martial art in which the expert uses his opponents’ strengths to his advantage. In the Central Asian case, however, both partners will benefit though not equally. As the limitations of the roads, depots, and rail lines running from the Black Sea and Baltic Sea into Central Asia become clear to NATO logistics experts, it will be necessary to improve, expand and modernize them.

The US will build an infrastructure system that Russia and other countries in the region will benefit from for many decades. Corporations that today see Afghanistan as tempting but inaccessible will look again at those promising geological surveys that found great riches.

The US will be bringing in war material and development supplies; the enterprises of various countries will be taking out Afghan copper, iron, and rare earths. Extraction will be confined for the near term to the north where the insurgency is weak but with a settlement someday, southern resources too can head north, especially if Pakistan becomes more unstable and Iran remains under international sanctions.

Russia sees this economic potential as stabilizing the region, enriching its coffers and influence, and limiting or balancing the already considerable Chinese presence in Central Asia. China is ascendant, Russia is not. China has been booming and its leadership and people look about them with a sense of limitlessness. Russia is comparatively stagnant and demoralized. Both powers know that they have vied over many centuries for power in Central Asia and that Russia usually won out, appropriating large swathes of the region.

From Moscow’s perspective, China’s economic expansion into Central Asia may be the basis for greater influence – perhaps a neo-colonial arrangement that from Beijing’s perspective rights the wrongs of centuries past and helps restore its place as the center of the world.

Russia’s goal is not to forge an anti-Chinese alliance with the US. Neither power wants that just now. The goal is to provide the basis for non-Chinese-centered development of the region and to strengthen a triangular power relationship among Russia, China, and the US – one with potential for each power’s shifting over from side to side as circumstances warrant. Undoubtedly, circumstances will change.

The US, however, will be the weakest power in the Central Asian triangle. Geography guarantees that. Crucially, Russia can limit US influence in the region through its influence in several of the former Soviet republics, where old communist personnel and political arrangements have persisted. And of course should the US weary of the region or be expelled by Russia, the roads, depots, and other infrastructure it built over the years cannot very well be taken out.

Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com.

India is not a global power

India is not a global power

CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN

Instead of chasing such titles, let us work harder to improve the lives of the poor

Power in inter-state relations is the capacity as well as the political will to use that capacity, of one country to make another country do something which, left to itself, it would not do or would not want to do. “Soft” power should not be considered a component of the concept of power since it is not relevant to modifying the behaviour of another country; it can and does serve as a model and indirectly — and over a period of time — to earn goodwill among sections of society of other countries for its culture. But it has no place in the discussion of power as a means to bring about a change in the attitude of another country. India has a genuine attraction for many in the Middle East because of its pluralism combined with a functioning democracy; however, it does not give any “power” to India to influence decision-making in those countries. When we talk of power, we are thinking of military, economic and diplomatic clout, not of Bollywood or yoga.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

The 20th century offers many examples of the exercise of power by states mostly in neighbouring countries or countries regarded as forming a part of their spheres of influence. There were at least 10 cases of American intervention, starting with Cuba when the Platt amendment was adopted in the Senate which gave virtual control over Cuba to the U.S. as well as provided the framework for the lease of Guantánamo Bay. Other examples are Panama in 1903, Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, Chile in 1973, etc. An example of the blatant exercise of power was the Anglo-French-Israeli joint attack on the Suez Canal zone in 1956. The Soviet Union used brute force to restore its domination of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. There was of course the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 which had a lot to do with the eventual collapse of the Soviet empire.

The establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and the evolution of international law since then have completely changed the rules of the game of the exercise of power by the introduction of the concept of legitimacy. It is universally recognised that there are only two scenarios of the legitimate use of force: pursuant to the Security Council authorisation or in the exercise of the right of self-defence. The latter has been severely circumscribed by the Charter which lays down that the right of self-defence can be exercised only in response to an attack by another state, thus rejecting the “pre-emptive” right of self-defence. The one case of unilateral use of force in the 21st century was the American intervention in Iraq in 2003 which the international community refused to recognise as legitimate since it did not have the imprimatur of Security Council approval nor was it accepted as having been in the exercise of the right of self-defence. United States/NATO intervention in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was sanctioned by the U.N.

Of the three constituent elements of “power” — military, economic and diplomatic — the economic is crucial. This is self-evident and does not need elaboration. One important reason why the Soviet Union lost the Cold War was the mismatch between its bloated military and the inability of its economy to support and sustain it.

Is there a “superpower” in the contemporary world? The answer is clearly in the negative. America has global reach, and its military is no doubt the strongest in the world. But this does not confer on it the capability to impose its will on others. To be fair to it, the U.S. does not ask others to recognise it as a superpower, though it does not protest when the rest of the world describes it as one. The Americans would rather prefer to be recognised as the “exceptional” power. The capacity of its military as well as the will of its political leadership to deploy anywhere at any time without worrying about adverse political or diplomatic reaction remains, but it is severely hobbled by its increasing economic weakness. To that extent, it is a global power. But it lacks in other attributes of power. The most embarrassing moment for American diplomacy was in March 2003 when it failed to persuade enough members of the Security Council, including some of its close allies, to support the “second resolution” on Iraq which would have legitimised its intervention in Iraq; only four countries promised support. More and more members in the U.N. vote in favour of the resolution criticising American sanctions against Cuba. The U.S. has not had much success in getting countries such as India to fall in line with its Iran policy. Getting its nominee elected president of the World Bank has less to do with its diplomatic strength and more to do with the voting advantage that it and its allies enjoy as also to the lack of unity among the challengers for the job.

America is without doubt a super “soft” power. Its movies, television series, popular music, and, most of all, its espousal of democratic values have immense resonance among the youth of the world, especially in the Arab and Muslim world. But these do not translate into “power.”

ABOUT CHINA

China is portrayed as a legitimate claimant for the title of global power. China’s economy has been the principal engine of growth of the world economy but is now slowing down and facing the prospect of a reality bubble, political instability and huge corruption scandals. It is now not clear when, if ever, it will become the biggest economy in the world. Its military capability is nowhere close to America’s. In R&D and labour productivity, it is way behind the U.S. China has increased its military profile, especially its navy. But the neighbours, while distrustful, are not afraid of China because of the American “pivot” or other factors. Much weaker countries, such as the Philippines, refuse to be intimidated by Chinese threats.

If the U.S. and China can be eliminated as candidates for “superpower” status, there is no need to consider any other state for the position.

INDIA’S CASE

Is India at least a “regional” power? The most conspicuous example of the exercise of power by India was the operation in 1971 in former East Pakistan. India’s intervention was not authorised by the U.N.; India justified it on the ground of self-defence since Pakistan had earlier attacked several Indian Air Force bases as also on the one that Pakistan had in fact invaded India in the form of 10 million refugees. There is also the case of the intervention in the Seychelles in 1986, and one case of ill-advised military intervention, in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s which had disastrous consequences for India. There was talk of India sending a brigade to Iraq in 2003, but wiser counsel prevailed. As a general rule, Indian participation in military operations has been as a part of U.N.-mandated peace-keeping operations, with the exceptions mentioned.

The global powers of yesteryear became such for concrete reasons: control over sources of raw materials including oil and gas and protection of the interests of their corporations, e.g. the case of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala in the 1950s, an American company in which the then CIA director was a shareholder.

Why do some analysts in India feel enamoured of the prospect of India being called a global or a regional power? Is it because of the sense of self-importance or prestige? Will such a “title” give India a place at the high table in international diplomacy? Others sometimes use this adjective for us for one or both of these reasons: to flatter us — and we are the most flattery-prone people in the world — and/or to make us take foreign policy steps which would serve the objectives of those flattering us. Will the label of regional power help ameliorate the lives of the poor in our country, which is and should continue to be the guiding principle of our domestic as well as external policy? Further, while we have soft power of doubtful practical utility, we definitely are or have become or are becoming a super “soft state.” India’s neighbours have the full measure of its will, or lack thereof, to use whatever hard power it has. One criterion of military power ought to be, not the unlimited capacity to pay for imports of hardware, but how much of it is the country able to manufacture domestically; India fares poorly in this respect. The possession of nuclear weapons does not change anything. Pakistan too has them. And, our nuclear weapons did not deter Pakistan from indulging in the Kargil adventure, but Pakistan’s nuclear weapons apparently deterred us from crossing the Line of Control (LoC) at that time, and restrained us after 26/11. The boom years of India’s economy seem to be over at least for the short term. Our forex reserves have ceased to grow and are likely to dwindle, with the rising energy bill and diminished exports. A reduction in interest rates might at some stage induce NRIs to start pulling out their deposits as it happened in 1990-91. A declining economy makes for a poor case for acceptance as a “power” of any kind.

In today’s world, the concepts of super or global or even regional power do not make sense. We should not waste our time or energy over this non-issue. Fortunately, the Indian government does not seem to be much preoccupied about such recognition.

(Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was until recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Special Envoy for West Asia.)

Toxic waste’ behind Somali piracy (repost)

Toxic waste’ behind Somali piracy

By Najad Abdullahi


Some pirates operating off Somalia’s coast claim to act as coastguards [GALLO/GETTY]

Somali pirates have accused European firms of dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast and are demanding an $8m ransom for the return of a Ukranian ship they captured, saying the money will go towards cleaning up the waste.

The ransom demand is a means of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years”, Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates, based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said.

“The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”

The pirates are holding the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware, off Somalia’s northern coast.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 61 attacks by pirates have been reported since the start of the year.

While money is the primary objective of the hijackings, claims of the continued environmental destruction off Somalia’s coast have been largely ignored by the regions’s maritime authorities.

Dumping allegations

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia confirmed to Al Jazeera the world body has “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline.

“I must stress however, that no government has endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible,” he said

The pirates are holding the MV Faina off Somalia’s northern coast [Reuters]

Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early 1990s.But evidence of such practices literally appeared on the beaches of northern Somalia when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland.

Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than decade.

“Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.

“And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

Nuttall also said that since the containers came ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.

“We [the UNEP] had planned to do a proper, in-depth scientific assessment on the magnitude of the problem. But because of the high levels of insecurity onshore and off the Somali coast, we are unable to carry out an accurate assessment of the extent of the problem,” he said.

However, Ould-Abdallah claims the practice still continues.

“What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

Toxic waste

Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste dumping, citing legal reasons.

But he did say the practice helps fuel the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and contracts.

“There is no government control … and there are few people with high moral ground … [and] yes, people in high positions are being paid off, but because of the fragility of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government], some of these companies now no longer ask the authorities – they simply dump their waste and leave.”

Ould-Abdallah said there are ethical questions to be considered because the companies are negotiating contracts with a government that is largely divided along tribal lines.

“How can you negotiate these dealings with a country at war and with a government struggling to remain relevant?”

In 1992, a contract to secure the dumping of toxic waste was made by Swiss and Italian shipping firms Achair Partners and Progresso, with Nur Elmi Osman, a former official appointed to the government of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, one of many militia leaders involved in the ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia’s former president.

At the request of the Swiss and Italian governments, UNEP investigated the matter.

Both firms had denied entering into any agreement with militia leaders at the beginning of the Somali civil war.

Osman also denied signing any contract.

‘Mafia involvement’

However, Mustafa Tolba, the former UNEP executive director, told Al Jazeera that he discovered the firms were set up as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste.

“At the time, it felt like we were dealing with the Mafia, or some sort of organised crime group, possibly working with these industrial firms,” he said.

Nations have found it difficult to tackle
the problem of piracy [AFP]

“It was very shady, and quite underground, and I would agree with Ould-Abdallah’s claims that it is still going on… Unfortunately the war has not allowed environmental groups to investigate this fully.”The Italian mafia controls an estimated 30 per cent of Italy’s waste disposal companies, including those that deal with toxic waste.

In 1998, Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian weekly magazine, claimed that although most of the waste-dumping took place after the start of the civil war in 1991, the activity actually began as early as 1989 under the Barre government.

Beyond the ethical question of trying to secure a hazardous waste agreement in an unstable country like Somalia, the alleged attempt by Swiss and Italian firms to dump waste in Somalia would violate international treaties to which both countries are signatories.

Legal ramifications

Switzerland and Italy signed and ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which came into force in 1992.

EU member states, as well as 168 other countries have also signed the agreement.

The convention prohibits waste trade between countries that have signed the convention, as well as countries that have not signed the accord unless a bilateral agreement had been negotiated.

It is also prohibits the shipping of hazardous waste to a war zone.

Abdi Ismail Samatar, professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera that because an international coalition of warships has been deployed to the Gulf of Aden, the alleged dumping of waste must have been observed.

Environmental damage

“If these acts are continuing, then surely they must have been seen by someone involved in maritime operations,” he said.

“Is the cargo aimed at a certain destination more important than monitoring illegal activities in the region? Piracy is not the only problem for Somalia, and I think it’s irresponsible on the part of the authorities to overlook this issue.”

Mohammed Gure, chairman of the Somalia Concern Group, said that the social and environmental consequences will be felt for decades.

“The Somali coastline used to sustain hundreds of thousands of people, as a source of food and livelihoods. Now much of it is almost destroyed, primarily at the hands of these so-called ministers that have sold their nation to fill their own pockets.”

Ould-Abdallah said piracy will not prevent waste dumping.

“The intentions of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment,” he said.

“What is ultimately needed is a functioning, effective government that will get its act together and take control of its affairs.”