Home' Greymouth Star : September 23rd 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Wednesday, September 23, 2015
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uLetters to the editor
1779 - US Admiral John Paul Jones captures
British warship Serapis off Flamborough
1846 - The planet Neptune is discovered by
German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle.
1912 - Silent film director Mack
Sennett ’s first Keystone Cops film,
Cohen Collects a Debt, is released.
1914 - Dusseldorf is targeted by
British aircraft in Germany during
World War One.
1939 - Death of Sigmund Freud,
Austrian psychiatrist and founder of
1940 - The George Cross, the highest British
civilian award for acts of courage, is instituted.
1952 - Rocky Marciano becomes world
heavyweight boxing champion when he knocks
out Jersey Joe Walcott in 13 rounds.
1978 - Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat
returns home to hero’s welcome after Camp
David summit that results in agreement on
framework for peace with Israel.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Augustus Caesar, first Roman emperor
(63BC-14AD); John De Witt, Dutch
statesman (1625-1672); Baroness Orczy,
British novelist (1865-1947); Raymond
Chandler, US writer (1888-1959);
Aldo Moro, Italian prime minister
(1916-1978); Mickey Rooney, US
Ray Charles, US singer-composer
(1930-2004); Julio Iglesias, Spanish
singer (1943-); Paul Petersen, US
actor (1945-); Bruce Springsteen,
US rock singer (1949-); Jason Alexander, US
actor (1959-) .
“ Each generation imagines itself to be more
intelligent than the one that went before it,
and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
— George Orwell (Eric Blair), British author
“Nations shall come to Your light, and kings to
the brightness of Your dawn.” — (Isaiah 60:3).
Hope was expressed
at yesterday’s meeting
of the No 12 District
meeting that the erection of the new Cobden
bridge would not clash with that proposed to
cross the Buller River near Te Kuha. Members
had just learned from the resident engineer
of the Ministry of Works, Westport, Mr J S
Douglas, that it would be advisable to “shelve”
the Buller bridge proposal in the meantime.
The chairman, Mr D B Dallas said the
executive felt it desirable to avoid throwing two
major constructions on to the market at the
Mr Mark Wallace said that when the
National Roads Board members visited the
West Coast it should be emphasised to them
the magnitude of the bridging work required.
“ We should strive for additional funds to be
made available,” he said.
Mr G Williams felt the bridge at Buller
should receive priority for it was designed to
District engineer Mr J G Sullivan said that
about half of the present bridges in the district
should last well for another 20 years.
A bulldozer slipped off the back of a
transporter while negotiating a sharp bend
just south of Gladstone this morning. The
bulldozer crashed through a guardrail fence
and rolled to an almost upside down position
at the bottom of a bank.
It suffered extensive damage to its hydraulics
system and had to be hauled out by another
dozer belonging to another contracting
firm. The crashed dozer was owned by Mr
J Birchfield, a contractor of Kaiata, and was
travelling into town.
uFood for thought
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espite years of
intimidation by the
violent extremist group
Boko Haram, the people
of south-eastern Niger’s
Diffa region had never
held a summit to confront the threat —
perhaps with good reason.
“One person could come here and kill us
all!” Diffa’s prefect, Inoussa Saouna, told
75 village leaders assembled along with
politicians and military commanders in
the city’s pale blue-walled cultural centre.
That same early September day, a double
suicide bombing that bore Boko Haram’s
hallmarks killed 19 people in nearby
The group, best known for its kidnapping
of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in
April 2014, has expanded from its base in
northern Nigeria to threaten the region. It
has menaced United States and European
allies in west Africa, and leader Abubakar
Shekau in March pledged its loyalty to
The Diffa meeting was a modest success
not just for its mutually suspicious tribes
but for a small team of fewer than 20 US
Special Operations Forces conducting
an experiment that is part of President
Barack Obama’s new counter-terrorism
The soldiers, who encouraged the
meeting and helped provide a ring of
security, do not go into combat, or even
wear uniforms. They are quietly trying
to help Niger build a wall against Boko
Haram’s incursions and its recruitment of
A Reuters reporter was the first to visit
the detachment, which is among about
1000 US. Special Operations Forces
deployed across Africa.
In Chad, Nigeria, Niger and elsewhere,
they are executing Obama’s relatively
low-risk strategy of countering Islamic
extremists by finding local partners willing
to fight rather than deploying combat
troops by the thousands.
The new approach, which Obama
announced in May 2014, is far from being
a silver bullet for the United States in its
global battle against Islamic militancy. The
indirect strategy appears to be faltering
in the Middle East, where the United
States has found few reliable allies on the
battlefield in Syria. In Iraq, US-trained
and -equipped forces evaporated last year
in the face of Islamic State’s offensive.
In Niger, there are signs of success
against Boko Haram, although progress
will likely be slow in a years-long effort,
US, European and African officials say.
“For the region, this is going to be a
struggle that ’s going to be with them
for a long time, not just in Niger, but
elsewhere,” said Army Colonel Bob
Wilson, commander of US Special
Operations Forces in north and west
United States officials say they see
predominantly Muslim Niger as worth
helping. Relatively stable, but facing
national and local elections in 2016, it is
threatened by Boko Haram in Nigeria
to the south, chaos in Libya to the north
and an al Qaeda affiliate that operates in
neighbouring Algeria and Mali.
The US soldiers in Diffa described their
mission as a sharp and welcome pivot from
the Iraq and Afghan wars, where virtually
all of them ser ved. The US military has not
said how long their presence will last.
“It’s a totally different approach to
the problem set,” an American team
sergeant said in an inter view. The Special
Operations soldiers can not be identified
by name under military ground rules.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United
States also works with local security forces
and leaders — but has wielded thousands
of combat troops, drone strikes and pricey
There is none of that in Diffa, a region
that includes more than 200 villages along
a 273km stretch of the Komadougou Yobe
river that marks the porous border with
In April, at Niger’s request, the American
soldiers reinforced their small ranks on a
drab, dusty compound with few amenities.
Boko Haram was mounting a regional
rampage and in February had launched
significant attacks inside Niger for the first
Working alongside them is an unusual
US non-profit group, Spirit of America,
that says it also aims to leave a light
footprint. Under written understandings
with the Pentagon, it buttresses US
military missions by providing local
populations with small-scale assistance
that would take Washington’s bureaucracy
months or years to procure.
In Niger, the group has provided first-aid
kits, Camelbak hydration systems and
medical detectors for Niger’s military. It
covered the $4000 cost of the anti-Boko
“It’s providing them with enough to
get through this critical phase,” said Isaac
Eagan, Spirit of America’s field operations
director. “It’s not fixing everything.”
Boko Haram has long used Niger for
refuge and resupply, officials said. By the
time the US team sergeant and his men
arrived, it had been luring young men
from Diffa’s villages since the late 2000s,
offering money and adventure, he said.
“ We missed the recruiting portion of it,”
There had been three consecutive bad
har vests of peppers, a primary crop,
leaving young farmers deep in debt, Anafi
Ousmane, a member of Diffa’s mayor’s
council, told Reuters.
“Now Boko Haram’s seeing that
vulnerability,” he said through a translator.
“ I will give you money. I will give you
another motor bike, I will give you a
woman. Join me.”
One group of US soldiers was training
Niger military’s 3rd Anti-terrorist
Company. Another began to grapple
with the civilian side of the problem,
accompanying the nascent civil-military
affairs unit of Niger’s military on visits to
villages up and down the river.
They encouraged villagers to report Boko
Haram activity to military authorities and
young people to establish watch groups.
Spirit of America provided mobile phone
credits to help.
Boko Haram has killed suspected
informants and fear of the group persists.
In June, the militants attacked two villages
in Diffa, killing at least 30 civilians. Some
died inside their mostly straw-thatched
houses, which were set alight.
Sergeant Fougou Saley, chief of civil-
military affairs for the Diffa region, said
Boko Haram’s violent tactics have alienated
much of the populace. But he said it still
draws support from some of the Kanuri
people, whose lands straddle north-eastern
Nigeria and south-eastern Niger.
“In some places, some still have their
heart toward Boko Haram,” said Saley,
himself a Kanuri.
But African, US and European officials
say the group’s attacks in Niger have
dropped significantly in the face of a
regional counter-offensive this year by
Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
“I think their command structure has
suffered a lot,” Colonel Major Moussa
Salaou Barmou, commander of the
military district that encompasses Diffa,
But Barmou said he warned his superiors:
“Always keep in mind one fact, that Boko
Haram still keeps the ability to regroup
very fast, conduct an action and disappear
The counter-Boko Haram summit
brought together representatives of the
Kanuri, Faluni and Buduma tribes, as well
as representatives of thousands of refugees
who have fled violence in northern Nigeria.
Voices were raised over whether former
Boko Haram members who had been
arrested and set free should be allowed to
rejoin their communities. Most said no.
When one speaker declared that captured
insurgents should be executed, applause
The US soldiers stuck to their behind-
the-scenes approach. The team sergeant
and a few others watched from the back of
the room and did not intervene even when
the gathering appeared to almost collapse
in confusion after 20 minutes.
The soldiers say they feel more welcome
in Niger than in Iraq and Afghanistan,
where the long US military presence,
American mis-steps and mutual
misunderstandings eroded tolerance.
“They’re fully supportive of getting Boko
Haram out of here. It’s nice to be able to
work with folks like that — that want the
problem gone,” said the team sergeant,
who was wrapping up his deployment and
handing off to his replacement.
Less clear is how long the Americans will
One thing they will not leave behind is
large-scale development projects like those
in Iraq and Afghanistan. Years of reports
by US inspectors general documented
wide-scale waste and corruption in those
“The biggest thing was not pumping
money and projects into the region,” the
team sergeant said. “Is it sustainable?
Saley, his counterpart from Niger, said:
“ I would even like the Americans to
stay for 40 years ... I don’t know what
the American government and Niger
government will decide.”
Confronting Boko Haram
The sheer dithering
cluelessness of the
leaders, faced with
an unexpected surge
in the number of
refugee status in EU
all our previous
incompetence. A new
standard has been set.
All of a sudden, in July, the main stream
of refugees arriving in Europe switched
from the trans-Mediterranean track out
of Libya to the Aegean Sea, where the
crossing from the Turkish coast to the
Greek islands just offshore is less than
one-10th as far. People are drowning on
this Aegean route too, but far fewer of
They do not want to stay in Greece, of
course — and, although Greece is part
of the Schengen area, which abolishes
border controls between most EU
members, it has no common border with
any other Schengen member. Migrants
wishing to claim refugee status in some
richer EU country must therefore trek
on up through the Balkans, seeking to
reach some other Schengen country like
Hungary or Slovenia.
They do not want to stay in those
countries either, but once they are in any
Schengen country other than Greece
they can travel on freely to their real
destinations, usually Germany, Sweden or
France. Or at least they could until about
two weeks ago. Then the panic started.
Heading up from Greece, the migrants
first reached Macedonia (not a Schengen
country). It tried to protect its border for
a while, then realised they just wanted
to cross Macedonia and let them all
through. Serbia (also not a Schengen
country) did the same — which delivered
them to the southern border of Hungary.
Hungary has been building a 3m-high
razor-wire fence along its southern
frontier to keep asylum-seekers out, and
it used considerable violence against the
mostly Syrian refugees at first. But then
Germany ’s Chancellor Angela Merkel,
wearing her Lady Bountiful cloak,
announced that Germany would accept as
many as wanted to come.
So Hungary opened its border and the
refugees surged through, on their way
to Austria and thence to Germany. That
lasted precisely two days. Then Merkel
panicked at the numbers arriving in
Germany and “temporarily” closed the
border with Austria. So to stop refugees
from piling up in Austria, Vienna
closed the border with Hungary — and
Hungary shut its border with Serbia for
the same reason.
Nothing daunted, the refugees stuck
on the Hungarian border turned left
and headed for Croatia (not a Schengen
member). Croatian Prime Minister
Zoran Milanovic declared that the
government was “entirely ready to receive
or direct those people where they want
to go, which is obviously Germany or
Scandinavian countries”. He knew they
really just wanted to cross Croatia to get
into Slovenia or Hungary (which are
But 24 hours later the Croatian
government, shocked by the numbers
that were coming, shut its border too.
Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic
said his country was “absolutely full” and
told the migrants: “Don’t come here any
more. Stay in refugee centres in Serbia
and Macedonia and Greece. This is not
the road to Europe.”
Meanwhile Hungary declared that it
was extending its razor-wire fence to
cover the border with Croatia as well,
and Slovenia began to stop trains coming
from Croatia to search for refugees. There
will be a summit this week at which EU
governments will try to come up with a
coherent common policy, but do not hold
your breath while waiting for the good
The EU probably will sort it out
eventually, because the numbers are
not really all that huge. About 500,000
migrants (most of whom will claim
refugee status) have entered the European
Union this year, which is only 1% of the
It is not beyond the wit of the EU’s
leaders to work out legal ways to send
false claimants home, to settle the
refugees already in Europe, and to
strengthen the EU’s external border
controls. Some lasting damage may be
done to the EU’s ideals in the process,
but for most practical purposes life in
Europe will return to normal — for a
However, this refugee crisis is only a
rehearsal for the main event, which will
probably arrive in 10 to 20 years’ time. It
will be driven by global warming, which
will devastate agriculture in the Middle
East and North Africa and produce a
five- or 10-fold increase in the number of
refugees heading for Europe.
This is not what might happen if the
world’s governments do not make the
right deal at the climate summit in
Paris in December. This is what almost
certainly will happen even if they do
make the right deal now. A considerable
amount of warming is already locked
into the system no matter what we do
about the climate now — enough to
produce that kind of refugee flow in the
There is not the slightest sign that
EU policy-makers have taken this on
board. If they are taken by surprise
again, the European Union may collapse.
So may several southern European
Gwynne Dyer is an independent
journalist whose articles are published in
Migrants: The shape of things to come
An unidentified US Special Operations Forces team sergeant leader speaks with his counterpart from Niger, sergeant Fougou Saley, second left, in Diffa, Niger.
A young migrant waits outside the foreign office to embark onto buses to refugee centres in Brussels, Belgium.
WORLD IN FOCUS
with Gwynne Dyer
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