Month: February 2020

Niger: Police rescue 232 victims of human trafficking


46 minors have been saved from forced begging and sexual exploitation

Police in Niger have rescued 232 victims of human trafficking, including 46 under the age of 18, during an INTERPOL-supported operation targeting organized crime groups in West Africa.

Operation Sarraounia, which means queen or female chief in the Hausa language, mobilized more than 100 officers from the Nigerien National Police to various hotspots in Niamey, leading to the arrest of 18 individuals on charges of human trafficking and crimes against children.

As part of the pre-operational phase, officers from INTERPOL’s Vulnerable Communities unit provided training on how to conduct victim interviews in cases of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

During the operation (21-31 January), the INTERPOL team on the ground helped national authorities make best use of INTERPOL’s policing capabilities, such as its databases and system of international Notices.

Of the 46 young people rescued, 37 girls aged between 10 and 17 had been forced into sexual exploitation out of hostels or the makeshift camps on the outskirts of Niamey. Other children had been taken from their families and forced to beg at markets and bus stations.

The young victims were safeguarded and received immediate medical attention, revealing a number of serious physical conditions, including advanced human papillomavirus infections.

“Whether it’s children, men or women, traffickers show little regard for the health and well-being of victims, they are simply a commodity to make money,” said Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General.

“As vital as it is to track and arrest those behind these crimes, we also need to ensure that those rescued are protected and respected throughout the police process,” he concluded.

All of the victims were provided assistance and returned to their families, with follow-up to be carried out by social services and NGOs.

As a result of the operation, Nigerien authorities requested six INTERPOL Green Notices warning of the danger posed by the individuals who recruited and sexually exploited the young girls.

Following an investigative lead, police officers from the Special Investigations Division of the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance conducted a raid on a house in the centre of Niamey. There, they found 115 men whose travel documents had been confiscated by traffickers. Victim interviews revealed that after a bus trip from Ghana, they were met by individuals who led them to the compound and refused to let them out.

Two days later, 65 more men arrived.

All of the men had been recruited online from Ghana and promised ‘decent work’. However, their travel fees and all costs relating to their recruitment, including commissions, would be deducted from future wages.

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Three INTERPOL Blue Notices seeking more information on the arrested traffickers have been published as part of the ongoing investigation.

Speaking about the operation, Barka Dankassoua, Commissaire de police and Head of NCB Niger said “Operation Sarraounia has shed much light on several criminal groups and trafficking routes. The skills our officers have learned will be put to good use as we follow up on a number of leads.”

Operation Sarraounia was carried out thanks to support from the Human Dignity Foundation, the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World and Project Flyway.

Interpol.int (February, 2020) Niger: Police rescue 232 victims of human trafficking

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U.S. Will Not Let China, Russia Deny Its Space Superiority, DOD Officials Say


Space systems underpin virtually every weapon system in the Defense Department’s arsenal, a senior DOD official told Congress.

But many systems were designed for an era when there were few threats in space, Dr. James H. Anderson, performing the duties of deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said today at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. This is not the case today, he added, as China and Russia both seek to be able to deny the United States and its allies the advantages of space.

China and Russia are developing sophisticated on-orbit capabilities and an array of counter-space weapons capable of targeting nearly every class of U.S. space asset, Anderson told the House panel. They are expanding their space capabilities, he said, and have created military space forces that they are training and equipping to prevail in future crises and conflicts.

The United States is responding by “transforming its space enterprise, fielding resilient architectures, developing space warfighting expertise and working closely with allies in combined operations,” he said.

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The fiscal year 2021 defense budget request provides $18 billion for space programs, including $111 million to support stand-up of the U.S. Space Force, Anderson said. It also provides funding for the new space combatant command — U.S. Space Command — and the Space Development Agency, which will accelerate the development and fielding of military space capabilities necessary to ensure U.S. and allied technological and military advantages.

In his written testimony, Anderson said the United States is actively pursuing opportunities with allies and partners to build combined space operations and interoperable, or even integrated, architecture. The flagship of this integration is the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with embedded British, Canadian and Australian exchange personnel working side by side with U.S. personnel.

“We have recently added Germany and France to the Combined Space Operations initiative,” he noted.

Space Force Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations, also testified.

“We can no longer assume that our space superiority is a given,” he said. “If deterrence fails, we must be ready to fight for space superiority.”

U.S. Space Command, along with the Space Force will deter aggression from conflict and do so from a position of strength, the general said. “Accordingly,” he added, “we will remain ready to defend U.S. and allied freedom of action in space. We will deliver space combat power for the joint and coalition force and we’re going to develop joint warfighters to serve in, to and from the space domain.”

Defense.gov (February, 2020) U.S. Will Not Let China, Russia Deny Its Space Superiority, DOD Officials Say

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U.S., NATO Leaders Thank Troops for Afghanistan Service


Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg thanked U.S. and NATO service members who have served and are serving in Afghanistan on a day of tremendous hope for peace.

Introduced in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul by Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, commander of the Resolute Support mission, the two men talked about the joint declaration signed between the United States and the Taliban today in Doha, Qatar. Both stressed to the service members from 25 countries that the declaration is conditions-based and that coalition nations and the Afghan government will hold the Taliban to the agreement’s conditions.

Esper and Stoltenberg also emphasized that the coalition — including the United States — will continue to support the Afghan government as the process moves ahead.

“All NATO allies and partners, we are ready to continue to provide support for Afghanistan, but also to adjust and reduce our presence there if the conditions are met, because everything we do here will be conditions based,” Stoltenberg said.

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Esper assured the service members that an end to the fighting will happen only when Afghans decide for themselves to lay down their arms and come together as one people. “We’re at that moment,” he said. “That is why the best path forward for the future of this country is through a political settlement.”

The agreement, Esper said, respects the integrity of the Afghan people “and preserves the accomplishments that we and our Afghan partners have fought so hard to achieve.”

American service members came to Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 2,977 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. The attacks were planned and directed from Afghanistan by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Since then, almost 800,000 U.S. troops have served in Afghanistan.

“Over 20,000 of our veterans have been wounded here in combat and forever bear the scars of this conflict,” Esper said. “And nearly 2,000 brave Americans made the ultimate sacrifice on Afghan soil by laying down their lives in defense of freedom.”

Coalition partners made similar commitments and sacrifices.

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also noted the sacrifices. “We owe a debt of gratitude to America’s sons and daughters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and to the many thousands who served over the past nearly 19 years,” he said in a written statement. “The only responsible way to end the war in Afghanistan is through a negotiated political settlement. Today is a reflection of the hard work of our nation’s military, the U.S. Department of State, intelligence professionals and our valued partners. The United States is committed to the Afghan people, and to ensuring that Afghanistan never becomes a safe haven for terrorists to threaten our homeland and our allies.”

Esper told the service members in Kabul that there is still a long way to go. “All of our decisions moving forward are conditions-based and require the Taliban to maintain the ongoing reduction in violence,” he said. “If the Taliban fail to uphold their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to engage in negotiations with the Afghan government and will not have a say in the future of this country.”

But if the Taliban live by the agreements, the United States will begin a deliberate phase with redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, initially reducing the force to 8,600, the secretary said. “As we do this, we will work closely with our allies and partners to reduce their forces as well in a proportional manner,” he added. 

Still, even as the process begins, U.S. and NATO forces will continue their train, advise and assist mission. “We will not hesitate to strike terrorist threats throughout the country as they emerge,” the secretary said. “Central to our agreement with the Taliban are measures to prevent the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups or other individuals who seek to harm the United States or our allies.

“Should that ever become compromised, we will take all necessary measures to protect our homelands and our people,” Esper said.

Defense.gov (February, 2020) U.S., NATO Leaders Thank Troops for Afghanistan Service

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Greene County Man Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Possession of Firearm Silencer, Missile Warning System


A former military subcontractor was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release for illegally possessing a firearm silencer and equipment that was property of the United States.

Joel Montgomery, 50, pleaded guilty to two counts in December 2019 with possession of a silencer not registered to him and retaining United States property with a value of more than $1,000.

According to court documents, in June 2015, Montgomery possessed at his home a firearm silencer that was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

While executing another search warrant at his home in October 2015, agents discovered an AN/AAR-47 Missile Warning System and a Control Countermeasures Set Display Unit that were property of the United States.

Montgomery had previously been employed as a subcontractor on a local military base, and during that time, had gained access to the property of the United States.

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Upon the end of his employment contract, Montgomery did not return equipment valued at more than $1,000 and instead kept the equipment for his personal use.

David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Chris Hoffman, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division; and Jonathan McPherson, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), announced the sentence imposed by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Rose. Assistant United States Attorneys Brent G. Tabacchi and Dwight Keller are representing the United States in this case.

ATF.gov (February, 2020) Greene County Man Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Possession of Firearm Silencer, Missile Warning System

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Mother of Navy veteran who committed suicide files $8.2 million claim against the VA


In April of 2019, Navy veteran Gary Pressley shot himself in the chest, which ended his life due to the extreme pain he was in, according to legal documents 13WMAZ obtained. As a result, Pressley’s mother, Rhonda Machelle Wilson, has filed a claim against the VA for more than $8.2 million.

Pressley served in the US Navy and was medically discharged in 2012 after a car accident.

13WMAZ reports:

“I just wish that they would have found him and stopped him, locked him up, did what they had to do,” Wilson said.

Back in 2019, 28-year-old Gary Pressley died by suicide after shooting himself in the chest in the parking lot of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center, in Dublin, Ga.

Documents 13WMAZ obtained say he left a suicide note saying, “This is what happens by punishing already-suffering people.” The back of the note said, “Thank you for the release.”

“It was just a battle with the medication, the doctors — I mean, I watched him cry,” Wilson said. 

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His sister, Lisa Johnson, said she called the Veterans Affairs Department to report that her brother was threatening suicide just moments before he killed himself, 13WMAZ reported.

After watching her son lose his life, Rhonda Wilson filed a wrongful death claim against the Veterans Administration for $8,250,006. One document says the VA referred Pressley to a pain specialist in Stockbridge who got his pain under control, but the doctor stopped treating veterans because the VA owed her hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Currently, I’m dealing with four of these different cases actively,” Attorney Peter Bertling said. 

Read more at 13WMAZ.com.

13WMAZ.com (February, 2020) Mom of veteran who committed suicide files $8.2 million claim against the VA

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