A Trail of Burning Ships: Assessing the Value of Commerce Raiding to the Confederate Cause

Civil War Roundtable

Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto

November 21, 2018


Far from the grinding slaughter of the American Civil War was another front, one where, for the most part, casualties consisted of property rather than young lives. This was the campaign undertaken by a small number of Confederate commerce-raiding ships to drive the Union’s vast merchant fleet from the Seven Seas and to draw away Union warships imposing a crippling blockade on Southern ports.

The campaign was one of both monotony and wild adventure, often fought in remote and exotic locations in both baking heat and bone-chilling cold.  The most famous of these cruisers were the Alabama, the Florida and the Shenandoah, making cruises as long as two years with the illumination of burning Union ships to mark their progress.

As the war went on and it became apparent that the South had little chance of winning, commerce raiding actually intensified. The captains and officers of these ships went to sea in the knowledge that popular opinion in the North demanded they be hung as pirates.

The Privateer Model

Granting letters of marque to privateers was the usual model for states at war that wished to destroy enemy commerce at no risk or liability to themselves. Privateers worked not out of loyalty, but for the prizes they were entitled to take by their dubious authority. This was tried in the early Confederacy, but when it became clear that privateers could not easily bring their prizes back through the blockade into the southern states, privateering came to an abrupt end. There was, however, money to be made from blockade-running, and this is where financial backers went.

In Richmond, it became clear that new measures were called for. Ships flying the flag of the Confederacy, manned by commissioned Southern officers and part of an official navy would sail the seas to intercept shipments of Federal war supplies and destroy Union shipping in general.

Britain decided early in the war to bar privateers from its ports, providing another incentive for the Confederacy to bring its commerce raiders under naval command, which would allow the ships to access British ports as a belligerent power, with the various restrictions covered by international law.

CSS Manassas

The CSS Manassas, the Confederacy’s first ironclad, began its career as a privateer. Using the engines and hull of a steam tug-boat, private investors in Louisiana commissioned an innovative design, combining a powerful ram with a 32-pounder gun in its bow. The ship was expropriated by the Confederate Navy and its original crew of thugs driven off by a single naval officer.

The Manassas participated in two major battles on the Mississippi, ramming both the USS Brooklyn and the USS Mississippi. When the ironclad attempted to prevent Admiral Farragut from running the Union fleet past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, it ran aground and was set on fire by the guns of the USS Mississippi. Eventually the Manassas drifted downstream while still on fire until its magazine exploded.

Lincoln’s proclamation of the blockade included a warning that anyone caught molesting Union shipping would be treated as a pirate and hanged. When it appeared that some captured privateers would be executed, Jefferson Davis ordered an equal number of senior Union officers held prisoner to be executed if Lincoln’s orders were carried out. They were not.

By 1863, the privateers had pretty much disappeared, replaced by the Confederate Navy’s commerce raiders.

Captain James Dunwoody Bulloch

James Dunwoody Bulloch (left) with his brother, Irvine Bulloch of the CSS Alabama

The main Confederate naval agent in Britain was Captain James Dunwoody Bulloch, an extremely resourceful character who produced a mixture of triumphs and disappointments in his efforts to supply the Confederacy with modern naval ships. Most of the disappointments were due to the tireless efforts of American diplomatic officials and their agents to ferret out well disguised plans to purchase or build warships in Britain and staff them with British crews. Obtaining ships, weapons and crews for use in a conflict to which Britain was not a party was a violation of that nation’s Foreign Enlistment Act, so subterfuge was called for.

Bulloch believed that winning the naval war in home waters was more important than launching commerce raiders, saying “The destruction of unarmed and peaceful merchant vessels… is not defensible upon the principles of moral law.” Nonetheless, he continued to follow orders to assemble a European-built fleet capable of smashing the Union blockade.

In the shipyards, the more obviously warlike the ships under construction were, the more attention they drew from the formidable intelligence network presided over by the US Ambassador to Britain, Charles Francis Adams. Bulloch ran his own network of secret agents who warned Bulloch of impending seizures of ships being built for the Confederacy.

The ships built in Britain and France were paid for in cotton, the only real currency the South possessed in any quantity.

Bulloch also handled the financing of blockade-runners. Several Confederate commerce raiders became blockade-runners under new names; others had been blockade-runners before being purchased and armed by the Confederate government.  Bulloch also handled financing for Confederate intelligence operations in the British Empire, including Canada. There were accusations after the war that he may have funded the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln.

The Commerce Raiders

A common process was followed with most of the European-built ships. Still unarmed, they slipped out to sea to rendezvous at some remote place with tenders carrying all the guns and military gear. At this point the officers donned their Confederate naval uniforms and informed the crew of the true nature of their voyage. The sailors were given the option of staying with the ship or returning with the tender. Many sailors were veterans of Her Majesty’s Navy, and the fact that some of these were still members of the Royal Naval Reserve created yet more violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act.

Desertions, expired contracts and illness ate away at crew numbers, and the cruisers were forced to recruit from the crews of their prizes. When the CSS Florida reached Martinique after two years at sea, its crew was mostly Italian, Austrian and Greek, with smaller numbers of French, English and Americans. Nearly all had been recruited from the crews of captured vessels. When the CSS Alabama went down, there were 19 different nationalities on board. Portuguese, Spaniards, Malays, Prussians, Frenchmen and even South Seas islanders all served on the commerce raiders.

Prisoners were another problem, with the cruisers forced to host large numbers of men from their prizes until they could be offloaded to some agreeable neutral ship or dropped at some port to find their own way home.

The commerce raiders were under strict orders not to directly engage Union warships unless there was no other alternative. The best possible result of such a fight was the destruction of a single Union warship, but remaining at large on the seas meant multiple warships would be drawn away from the blockade to pursue the raider. This, and the destruction of Northern merchantmen and their cargoes, was the real mission of the cruisers.

Stealth was central to commerce raiding – the cruisers carried a chest of international flags for use in luring trusting victims to their doom. Some ships tried to make a run for it after receiving a shot across the bow, leading to dramatic sea chases which the best Confederate cruisers usually won with their combination of steam and sail.

Most of the commerce raiders had little expectation of docking in any Confederate port, so provisions were obtained from their victims and repairs made in foreign harbors. These repairs were allowed to belligerent powers under international law so long as the military power of the ship was not enhanced or its complement of sailors increased. If a Union ship was present in the same foreign port, it was not allowed to take any action against the Confederate vessel, nor could it follow the ship when it left the port for 48 hours or to engage it within the three-mile range of national waters. Once discovered by a Union ship, it became imperative for a cruiser to leave a foreign harbor as quickly as possible before other Union ships could close in and trap it.

The Union never adopted convoys as a means of protecting their merchant fleet. The North never had enough ships to maintain both convoys and the blockade, so the latter was judged more important and the merchantmen were left to their fates. Convoys only work when there is a common destination; they cannot protect ships going to a variety of ports.

Discipline was always a problem on the cruisers, given that, other than the officers, the crews were not from the southern states and had no loyalty to the Confederate cause. Raphael Semmes, the commander of the Alabama, noted that many of the crew had the belief they were on some sort of privateer where “they would have a jolly good time and plenty of license.” He convinced these men otherwise with what he termed “a strong hand.” Confederate Marines served on all the cruisers to enforce the officers’ orders, but little is known about them as all their records were destroyed in a fire shortly after the war.

Drunkenness was a constant problem, especially when the crew discovered stores of alcohol in one of their prizes. When the Shenandoah seized a ship carrying 50 barrels of liquor and over 2100 bottles of spirits, a four-day drunken riot ensued before the officers could restore order. Fighting, insolence, theft and neglect of duty were other common offenses. Discipline could be enforced by extra duties, cancellation of grog, heavy fines, being clapped in irons, gagging or tricing. The latter was an unofficial naval punishment that gained popularity after flogging was banned and involved being hung by the wrists for hours with the feet barely touching the deck.

Ships’ officers tended to be very young. On the Shenandoah, 25-year-old Executive Officer William Whittle was expected to deal out discipline to older, hardened men with no real loyalty to the South or its cause. His commander, “Old Man Waddell,” was 41.

The captain of the Alabama came to trust his young officers; Captain James Waddell, however, never did, and often rose from his bed in the middle of the night to countermand the sailing orders of his subordinates. This drove a wedge between the captain and his young officers.

A small number of slaves were also part of the cruisers’ crews, usually employed in the galley or as stewards. The Alabama had two slaves in its complement; both died in its final battle. The Shenandoah had two free Blacks in its crew; one had eagerly volunteered after his ship was taken; the other was a veteran of the US Navy who had been aboard the USS Minnesota when it was attacked by the Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Impressed as a cook, he was a constant discipline problem, being triced as many as three times a week before he deserted.

Since Britain, France, Spain and their colonies all prohibited prizes from being brought into port for sale, there was little alternative for the cruisers to do anything more than burn, scuttle or bond their prizes. The latter practice spared the ship, but was actually a form of ransom in which the ships’ owners were obliged to pay a heavy fine to the Confederate government at the conclusion of the war. The practice presumed a Confederate victory or negotiated settlement would conclude the war.

The crews of the commerce-raiders were promised prize money for every ship ransomed, burned or sunk. The value of the vessels and their cargoes were carefully recorded in the ship’s log and the funds were to be paid out by the Confederate government at the end of the war. Needless to say, none of these funds appeared after the collapse of the Confederacy. Many sailors discovered there was far more money in blockade-running, which offered high wages and space within the ship to store their own speculative cargoes.

In general, the commanders of the commerce raiders did not allow looting of the ships they captured in order to avoid charges of piracy, but these rules were interpreted in different ways. One veteran of the Alabama complained: “Whenever we took a prize, the officers always made a rush for all the good eatables and drinkables, while the men were not allowed a single article, and severely punished if they touched anything.” Captain Semmes believed that relaxation of this rule could encourage boarding parties to try and take possession of the entire prize for themselves.

The most important parts of a cruiser intended to remain at sea for a long time were steam condensers to produce fresh water from salt water, and large coal bunkers that enabled the steamers to avoid entering foreign ports where they could be trapped by Union ships. Being composite vessels, they usually remained under sail, bringing their iron propellers into play only when necessary.

The crews became experts in arson, learning all the best techniques to send a ship up in flames. The sight of wooden ships blazing through the night in the midst of a vast ocean left indelible impressions on those involved. Many approached the work with enthusiasm; an officer recalled of one ship: “As she had no oil aboard, we found it a little hard to get the fire going, but when it did start, it burned beautifully.” Semmes described the sound of a burning ship as “the sound of a thousand furnaces.”

CSS Nashville

One of the earliest Confederate commerce raiders was the CSS Nashville, converted from a passenger-carrying paddle wheeler with powerful engines. The Nashville took only two prizes, but was politically important for being the first Confederate ship to arrive in a British or European port. US Ambassador Charles Adams demanded the British treat it as a pirate vessel, but Foreign Secretary Lord Russell declared it was a belligerent vessel with a regular crew, thus granting it the usual protections under international law.

CSS Nashville burns the Harvey Birch

With the legal status of the Confederate ships settled in Britain, the rest of Europe followed suit in what was a vital development for the survival of the small Confederate navy. Evading the USS Tuscarora, the Nashville returned to North Carolina loaded with Enfield rifles and eight batteries of artillery in February 1862.

The Nashville briefly entered service as a blockade-runner as the SS Thomas L. Wragg and then as a rare privateer under the name Rattlesnake. Before it could take any prizes, the Rattlesnake was destroyed by the monitor USS Montauk in the Ogeechee River of Georgia.

Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama

Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Captain Raphael Semmes was the most famous of the cruiser commanders. He began his raiding in the CSS Sumter, a former passenger steamer that was not especially suitable for use as a commerce-raider, but Semmes thought she had “a saucy air about her,” and undertook extensive renovations to turn her into a warship.

CSS Sumter Burns the Neapolitan off Gibraltar

After running the blockade, Semmes and his crew learned their new trade well, taking 18 prizes and burning seven. Its last two victims were taken off the coast of Gibraltar in April 1862. Afterwards the Sumter was trapped in Gibraltar’s port by Union warships and had to be abandoned.

Semmes’ next command was the Alabama, a British-built composite steamer armed with six 32-pounder guns on its flanks and two pivot guns, an 8-inch smoothbore and a 100 pounder Blakely rifle.

CSS Alabama vs the USS Hatteras (foreground)

In January 1863, the Alabama took on the USS Hatteras off Galveston. The guns of the Union’s paddle-wheel cruiser were no match for the Alabama’s, and the Union ship was sunk in only 13 minutes. This battle left other Union ships wary of tackling Confederate cruisers without support.

As the Alabama’s cruise went on and accusations of piracy became louder, Semmes seemed to take on a more piratical appearance, terrifying the masters of captured ships as he examined their papers in his cabin, stroking his ever-longer waxed mustache in front of a collection of chronometers taken from ships that had failed the test and been sent to the bottom.

Captain Semmes and First Mate John McIntosh Kell, CSS Alabama

After two years at sea, the Alabama was bottled in at the French port of Cherbourg in June 1864 by the USS Kearsage. Semmes’ choices were to offer battle to the Union ship before even more federal ships arrived, or to abandon the Alabama in port. The prestige of the Confederacy had been blemished by the defeat at Gettysburg and Semme’s own reputation tarnished by charges of piracy. In this situation, Semmes sought and received permission to engage the Kearsage. Semmes sent the captain of the Kearsage a brief note, reading: “I am undergoing a few repairs here which I hope will not take longer than the morrow. Then I will come out and fight you a fair and square fight.”

As the ships circled in the Channel, hurling shot and shell at one another, Semmes realized two things;

(1) The fire of the Alabama was having little effect on the Kearsage, due to the latter’s use of heavy chains draped over the sides of the ship, and (2) the superior speed of the Kearsage would make an Alabama victory difficult. Semmes attempted to resolve these issues by getting in close enough to board the Union whip, believing his veteran crew would make quick work of the less-experienced crew of the Kearsage. The attempt failed, and only resulted in greater damage to the Alabama from close-range fire.

Another reason for the Alabama’s inability to destroy the Kearsage was the powder in the Alabama’s shells had deteriorated at sea. The Alabama nearly ended the battle when it struck the stern of the Kearsage near its screw with a 100-pound percussion shell, which lodged in the ship’s timbers but failed to explode. The entire section was later removed and displayed as a relic of the battle.

With the Alabama steadily taking on water that threatened to put out her fires and most of her guns out of commission, Semmes struck his colors and ordered the survivors to abandon ship.

The Sinking Alabama Lowers its Flag

Even the sinking of the Alabama incited controversy; Semmes and a number of his officers escaped capture and probable trials for piracy when they were plucked from the water by the Deerhound, a private English yacht that took them to safety in England rather than turn them over to the victorious Americans, who claimed they had a right to take the Alabama’s crew as prisoners since the ship had surrendered to the Kearsage.

The wreck of the Alabama was discovered in 1984 by a French navy mine-sweeper. Two five-ton guns were raised in 2000, along with the ship’s bell, items of furniture, tableware and even a human jaw found under a gun.

By the time it sank, the Alabama had captured 65 Union merchantmen and burned 52 of them, with a total value of over $4.5 million. In 22 months, it had boarded 447 ships and taken over 2,000 prisoners.

After safely returning to the South via Cuba, Semmes was placed in command of the freshwater James River Squadron, using the ironclad Virginia II as his flagship.

The CSS Florida

The CSS Florida

The CSS Florida left the Liverpool shipyard where it was built in March 1862. When it arrived in Nassau it was temporarily interned and its crew of 130 dispersed. When the ship was returned to its Confederate commander, John Maffitt, he was able to recruit only 20 local men to take it back to sea to load the guns and other war materiel that had arrived separately from Scotland. Things got worse, as Yellow Fever struck Maffitt and the small crew, killing four, including Maffitt’s stepson.

Incredibly, Maffitt was able to run the Florida through the Union blockade into Mobile, Alabama, where he was able to enlist a new crew. The ship was blasted by Union warships as it made its run into Mobile, and repairs took four months. Maffitt then made a brilliant night-time escape past nine Union warships determined to catch her leaving port.

The Florida was a great success as a commerce raider. One of its victims carried 10,000 boxes of fireworks from China, creating a spectacular display as it burned through the night. After taking many prizes, Maffit’s health failed and he left the ship at Brest in August 1863.

His successor, Lieutenant Charles M. Morris, continued to have triumphs until he sailed into the harbor of Bahia in Brazil, where the USS Wachusett was also docked. Morris accepted Brazilian guarantees of his safety in the harbor under international law and decided to allow his men much-needed shore leave. After 12 hours the starboard watch returned roaring drunk and the port watch was allowed ashore. At 3 in the morning the Wachusett illegally attacked and seized the ship, towing it away before the Florida’s port watch could return.

The Brazilians were outraged and demanded the return of the Florida, but the cruiser was taken to Hampton Roads, where it sank in mysterious circumstances. The Wachusett’s captain, Napoleon Collins, was court-martialled for his violation of international law, but later pardoned by US Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.

The CSS Rappahannock

The CSS Rappahannock in Calais

An example of how desperate the Confederacy could be at times to acquire ships for commerce raiding is the sad story of the CSS Rappahannock, also known as “the White Elephant.” Originally the HMS Victor, the 500-ton dispatch steamer was judged defective by the Admiralty and sold at auction in November 1863. Its sale to a Confederate agent pretending to be interested in using her in the China trade was quickly detected and it was ordered not to leave port. An intrepid young Scotsman was hired and managed to run her out to sea so suddenly there were still workmen on the ship. However, her bearings burned out and the ship drifted to Calais, where it gained entry to port as a ship in distress. Once there, Lieutenant Fauntleroy, CSN, took command of the ship. Trapped in the harbor by two Union warships and French reluctance to allow her to go to sea, the Rappahannock remained there, rotting in its berth until the end of the war.

The Shenandoah– The World-Wide Cruise

Bulloch purchased the Sea King, a much-admired composite ship in London in September 1864. The vessel slipped past two Union warships guarding the outlet of the Thames and met a tender carrying all necessary arms and war materiel. It was the beginning of a voyage that would take the ship around the globe under her new name, the CSS Shenandoah.

Some of the Rappahannock’s crew was transferred to the Shenandoah, which suffered from personnel shortages throughout its voyage. When it set off on its world-wide cruise, 9 of 23 officers were British, as were all ten petty officers and nearly all the crew. When the ship stopped in Melbourne for repairs, the US consul made repeated complaints that the Shenandoah was recruiting locally in violation of the British Foreign Enlistment Act. Waddell denied all such charges, but after his ship took to sea some 42 “stowaways” emerged, asking to join the crew. Among them were 32 British and two Canadians.

By the time the last great Confederate commerce raider set sail again, boredom and poor morale at sea were becoming major problems due to the lack of prizes since its departure from London. The Shenandoah would literally have to go to the ends of the earth to find them.

Service on the cruisers did allow their crews to see remote places that few other men had seen, such as the visit of the Shenandoah’s officers to the ancient and mysterious stone city of Nan-Matal in the South Pacific. Nearly all the officers received native tattoos in the South Pacific.

Captain James I. Waddell of the CSS Shenandoah

The Shenandoah was not a happy ship, however; it was continually plagued by bitter rivalries and disputes in its officer corps as well as a general dissatisfaction with its skilled but sullen master. In a sign of declining discipline, the Shenandoah’s officers began to pilfer personal items from their prizes in the South Pacific, blurring the lines between piracy and commerce raiding.

Communicating with a ship deliberately trying to avoid detection was nearly impossible, and the Shenandoah steamed on ignorant that the war at home was quickly drawing to a close.

Bulloch had issued specific orders to Waddell to strike the American whaling fleet in the Pacific, which he described as “a source of abundant wealth to our enemies and a nursery for their seamen.”

The CSS Shenandoah Burns the New England Whaling Fleet in the Bering Sea

The Shenandoah burned its first New England whaler in the Bering Sea the day after Lee surrendered the Army of North Virginia on April 9, 1865. It was the first of many. One whaler’s captain had lost his first ship to the Alabama, and then another to the Shenandoah; a crewman pledged never to ship with that master again, saying that he was better at finding Confederate cruisers than whales! The Shenandoah fired the last shot of the Civil War on June 28, long after all the other Confederate commands had surrendered. The cruise continued, however, as Waddell was still unaware of the Confederate collapse.

Having destroyed the American whaling fleet, Waddell headed for San Francisco, intending to steam past the formidable harbor defenses at night. Once through, the Shenandoah would ram the Union monitor stationed there, board her, and then turn the guns of both ships against the city to demand its surrender. Before this audacious plan could be put into motion, Waddell finally received definitive proof of the war’s end.

Waddell ordered all the ship’s weapons stowed below. His orders in this case were to sail into Valparaiso, Chile, sell the ship, and pay off the crew. Many of the officers insisted on surrendering the ship to British authorities at Capetown or Sydney, but Waddell instead made the strange decision to take the ship 17,000 miles around the Horn and through Atlantic waters infested with Federal ships.

Newspapers intercepted by the Shenandoah revealed that President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor) had outlawed the cruiser and that Waddell and his crew were to be summarily hanged as pirates after their expected capture. Despite a near mutiny, Waddell persuaded the bulk of the crew to follow his plan, and, on November 6, 1865, seven months after Lee’s surrender, he sailed the Shenandoah into Liverpool and surrendered her to the city’s astonished mayor.  The Shenandoah had captured 38 Union vessels, burning 32 and bonding six on a remarkable cruise of 58,000 miles with stops on every continent save Antarctica.

The Navy that Never Was

By 1863 it had become apparent that the South’s home-made ironclads were capable of individual successes, but were not capable of shattering the Union’s blockade. Mallory decided that ironclads built in Europe would provide the necessary force to drive the blockaders from Southern shores. However, the shallow waters of the Southern coast and ports required shallow-draft ironclads still capable of taking on the Union’s Monitor-class ironclads. The problem was how to get such ships safely from Europe across 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean to the Southern states. Bulloch’s plan, never realized, was to ship pre-fabricated shallow-draft warships to the Confederacy for final assembly there.

Instead, Bulloch and other Confederate agents initiated the construction of a powerful, modern war-fleet. This consisted of:

  • Two “Laird Rams,” so-called after their builder
  • Two French-built rams, Cheops and Sphinx
  • Frigate no. 61, “the Scottish Sea Monster”
  • Four French-built corvettes.

Two blockade runners under construction in England were to also be equipped with incendiary shells and rockets to launch surprise attacks on New England towns and cities.

The Laird Rams

One of the Laird Rams

With 9-inch rifled guns in two revolving turrets, 5.5-inch-thick armor and powerful rams, Bulloch was convinced the Laird Rams would make quick work of the Union’s wooden warships. To deceive Federal spies, it was announced that the two ships were destined for the Egyptian Navy.

Under American threats of war, the British finally agreed to prevent the Laird Rams from sailing out of Liverpool to hoist a Confederate flag. Despite schemes to conceal their ownership, Union spies watching the shipyards had discovered the truth and the rams were eventually purchased by the Royal Navy for use as coastal defense vessels.

“The Scottish Sea Monster” – Frigate no. 61 after its sale to Denmark

At the same time a more advanced and partially armored version of the Alabama under construction on the Clyde was seized. This was followed by the confiscation of “Frigate no. 61,” a powerful ironclad ram built in Glasgow that became known as “the Scottish Sea Monster.” By late 1863, Mallory’s dream of superior European-built ironclads sweeping away a mostly wooden Union war-fleet was beginning to evaporate. Confederate defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg had greatly diminished French and British support for the South.

The Stonewall

Two ironclads were built for the Confederates in France in 1864. Also ostensibly destined for the Egyptian Navy, they were named Cheops and Sphinx. Emperor Napoleon III ordered that the still-unarmed ships be sold to neutral powers rather than the Confederacy. The Cheops went to Prussia, where it became the SMS Prinz Adalbert. The poorly-built ship’s short career ended in 1871, when it was discovered that its internal wooden construction had rotted beyond repair.

The Sphinx was sold to Denmark, which rejected her, then sold back to a French firm that in turn sold it to the Confederacy, as originally intended.

The CSS Stonewall

Renamed the Stonewall, this ironclad was fitted with a massive ram and a formidable 300 pounder Armstrong rifle mounted in the bow. Many of the crew were veterans of the Florida.

The ship, designed for coastal use, sailed badly in anything other than smooth waters and its junior officers came close to mutiny rather than try to take it across the Atlantic. Storms held it up in European waters long enough for the USS Niagara and the USS Oneida to try and seal it into port. Captain Thomas Jefferson Page, the Stonewall’s commander, took the ironclad out to sea and spent an entire day challenging the pair of Union ships, but they refused to fight. With no apparent opposition, Page took the Stonewall out the next day to cross the Atlantic.

Bulloch was aware of the Stonewall’s weaknesses and its captain was increasingly of the opinion that the ship was being sent on a suicide mission, but Bulloch also knew that the Stonewall’s strength was much exaggerated in the North, and its mere appearance off the North Carolina coast could cause panic in the mostly wooden Union fleet.

The Stonewall as the Japanese Azuma, 1871

In the event, the Stonewall arrived in Nassau just as the Civil War was drawing to a close. Captain Page took the ship to Cuba where he sold it to the Spanish government for just enough money to pay off the crew. The Spanish turned it over to the US for the same amount, which sold it in turn to Japan, where it participated in several battles and gained a reputation as a powerful and unsinkable warship before it was scrapped in 1889.

Post-War Litigation

At war’s end the United States demanded compensation from Britain for the destruction of its merchant fleet. Some US demands, such as receiving Canada in compensation, were viewed in London as excessive. The matter went to arbitration in Geneva in 1872, resulting in a British payment of $15.5 million in gold.

In agreeing to the compensation, Britain made what might have amounted to an admission of culpability when it announced, in diplomatic legalese: “The government of Her Britannic Majesty cannot justify itself for a failure in due diligence on a plea of the insufficiency of the legal means of actions which it possessed.”

It has been argued that Britain actually came out ahead, with most of the remaining American merchant fleet having been re-flagged during the war under the Union Jack. Other unintentional beneficiaries of the commerce raiding campaign were the whales, as the destruction of the New England whaling fleet in the North Atlantic and North Pacific helped hasten the end of whaling as an occupation.

After the war, Confederate naval officers, agents and diplomats involved in commerce raiding were excluded from the general amnesty. Most waited for a second, more inclusive amnesty in 1868 to return to America, though some, like Captain John Maffit, found their property had been confiscated. Bulloch avoided imprisonment by remaining in Liverpool, where he died in near-poverty in 1901. Other naval officers moved to Mexico or Argentina to avoid retribution.

Semmes was arrested and charged with treason, though he was released after four months in prison. His political enemies did not forget him, and succeeded in chasing him from several jobs and appointments. He eventually practiced law in Mobile, where he died in 1877 after eating contaminated shrimp. With time, his reputation improved; Semmes was featured on a 1995 US stamp and portrayed in a full-size statue erected in Mobile in 1900. The statue was suddenly taken down in 2020 in an attempt to appease Marxist Black Lives Matter militants.


In the latter days of the war prizes became few and far between, a frustrating development that was actually a tribute to the cruisers’ effectiveness in driving American merchant shipping from the seas. When the Alabama entered Singapore harbor in December 1863, Semmes discovered 20 Union merchantmen lying at anchor, afraid of taking to sea. There were similar scenes in ports across Asia, as insurance rates for American ships sky-rocketed. Union ships that attempted to avoid destruction by changing flags or carrying fake bills of sale to neutral parties rarely fooled the cruiser commanders, who knew every trick.

From the time of the launch of the CSS Sumter, Mallory and Bulloch had made sure that there was always at least one major commerce raider wreaking havoc on Northern shipping somewhere in the world. To cope with this, some 80 Federal warships were diverted from their blockade duties over the course of the war.

Bulloch realized the diplomatic cost of commerce raiding early on, but followed his orders to obtain and equip such ships with enormous energy. The brief reign of the commerce raiders and the litigation that followed spurred greater work on international law that helped reduce many points of friction between the United States and the European powers.

The Confederate commerce raiders could destroy Union shipping or drive it under new flags, but the North, unlike the South, was not deficient in raw materials or the manufacturing base needed to turn these into munitions, weapons, ships and every other type of war materiel. In this sense, it was impossible for the raiders to affect the resource-rich Northern war effort in any significant way. Bulloch was correct in suggesting powerful European-made ironclads capable of smashing the Union blockade were the way to go, if they could be delivered, but he and others eventually learned that no nation, especially one unrecognized, can rely on foreign construction of warships during a conflict to achieve victory.


War in the Tibesti Mountains – Libyan-Based Rebels Return to Chad

AIS Special Report, November 12, 2018

Andrew McGregor

Tibesti (SVS Chad)

Relative peace has reigned in northern Chad’s arid Borku-Ennedi-Tibesti (BET) region since 2009, when most of the insurgents seeking to end President Idris Déby Itno’s 28-year rule were driven north across the border into Libya. Some 11,000 Chadian rebels have worked as mercenaries for both sides of the Libyan conflict, accumulating arms, cash and military experience as they prepared to make their eventual return to Chad.

Dissident general Mahamat Mahdi Ali gathered many of these groups together under his leadership in the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT – Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad). [1] The first formation to return to Chad is the Conseil de Commandement Militaire pour le Salut de la République (CCMSR – Military Command for the Salvation of the Republic), founded in March 2016 as a split from FACT. The CCMSR claims to have 4500 fighters, mostly Daza Tubu, with smaller numbers of Zaghawa, Arabs and Maba (the latter hailing from the east Chadian province of Wadai).

Chad, with Tibesti in the North-West (Ezilon.com)

President Déby, a skillful desert fighter and former Chadian Army commander, took power in a coup in 1990 and has been re-elected five times in disputed elections. Rebellions have been frequent, but in recent years Chad has become a major regional ally of France and the United States in the struggle against terrorism in the Sahara/Sahel region. It is a member of the French-sponsored G5S counter-terrorism alliance along with Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), fighting Boko Haram terrorists in the Lake Chad region. With its headquarters in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena, other MNJTF members include Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Niger. On October 10, Boko Haram elements crossed the border into Chad and attacked an ANT base at Kaiga Kindji, killing eight soldiers before being driven off with a reported loss of 48 militants.

In a November 2016 statement, CCMSR secretary-general Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye described the Déby regime as “a perfect illustration of clan despotism in its most pernicious and most abject form.” After outlining the administration’s corruption and use of violence against its opponents, Boulmaye justified the CCMSR’s insurrection: “Ours is the armed struggle. The vulgar despot of Chad maintains power by force; why is it so bad to drive him away by force? The path of armed struggle is the only one left, and it will overcome by the grace of God.” As for Déby, “He will have a double choice, the grave or the prison” (Lepythonnews, November 27, 2016).

The rebel leader also noted that many Zaghawa (Déby’s ethnic group) were abandoning the president; Boulmaye’s strategy was to encourage other Zaghawa to do the same by creating “a situation of insecurity” for members of the ethnic group. [2]

Return to Chad

CCMSR Column in Northern Chad (Tchad Convergence)

The CCMSR began to probe Chadian defenses in April 2017 with an attack inside Chad that killed 12 soldiers (RFI, August 14, 2018). A further clash with the Armée National du Tchad (ANT) took place on August 18, 2017, when a CCMSR column moving from Libya to Darfur ran into a Chadian Special Forces patrol at Tekro in the Ennedi region of northern Chad. Though small and without a permanent population, Tekro’s wells and airstrip make it strategically important. The Chadian unit suffered casualties, including the deaths of two colonels, while the survivors fled into the mountains (TchadConvergence, October 19, 2017).

Imprisoned Leadership

The movement has managed to survive despite the arrest of three leading members in Niger in October 2017, allegedly at the request of N’Djamena. Boulmaye, CCMSR spokesman Ahmat Yacoub Adam and CCMSR external affairs secretary Dr. Abderahman Issa Youssouf were extradited to Chad, where they were charged with the capital offense of terrorism and transferred to the notorious desert prison at Koro Toro. Supporters of the men appealed unsuccessfully for France to intervene against the extradition. France had previously granted refugee status to Boulmaye and Youssouf. Adam has refugee status in Egypt.

Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye (left), Ahmat Yacoub Adam (center) and Dr. Abderahman Issa Yousouf (right) (Tchad Convergence)

Fearing the three would meet “certain death” if extradited to Chad, the CCMSR threatened to attack Niger in an October 25, 2017 statement, though the promised strike did not materialize (Tchad Convergence/Deutsche Welle, October 27, 2018).

Boulmaye’s temporary replacement as secretary general was Colonel Mahamat Tahir Acheick. The colonel was succeeded in 2018 by Hissène Habré loyalist Michelot Yogogombaye (a.k.a. Kingabé Ogouzeïmi de Tapol), who works from exile in Paris (Tchad Convergence, August 17, 2018; Tchad Convergence, April 3, 2018).

The Battle of Kouri Bougoudi

Chad closed its border with Libya in January 2018, but stood little chance of avoiding infiltration by the CCMSR along a lengthy and lightly inhabited stretch of inhospitable desert.

CCMSR militants attacked a military outpost at Kouri Bougoudi (35 km from the Libyan border) in the volcanic Tibesti region of northeastern Chad on August 11, 2018. The Tibesti Mountains, a picturesque but physically challenging area, is regarded as the ancestral homeland of the Tubu people of northern Chad, southern Libya and northeastern Niger. The discovery of gold in Tibesti has brought artisanal gold miners from Niger, Sudan and other parts of Chad. Many are based around Kouri Bougoudi.

CCMSR Fighters

Arriving in over one hundred trucks at 2:23 AM, the assailants were armed with DShK “Dushka” 12.7 mm heavy machine guns and ZPU-4 quadruple barrel anti-aircraft weapons systems, using 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine guns. Both these Soviet-era designs are commonly mounted on the beds of 4×4 pick-up trucks in Libya and Chad.

A CCMSR statement released after the battle claimed 73 government troops killed and 45 taken prisoner (including three officers) against a cost of four CCMSR dead and seven wounded (Al Wihda [N’Djamena], August 19, 2018).

The attack was initially denied by the Minister of the Interior and Security, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, who mocked CCMSR claims: “No attack on our position took place. I don’t know – did they attack the pebbles, the mountains?” (RFI, August 24, 2018). N’Djamena eventually acknowledged the death of Colonel Tahir Oly and two other soldiers in the clash (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], August 12, 2018; Le Monde, September 14, 2018).

Reluctant to admit the political context of the attack on the village and its garrison, a Chadian security source told French media only that the army had been confronted by “coupeurs de route” (highwaymen) and “drug traffickers” (RFI, August 11, 2018). Two days later, the government ordered all gold miners to leave Kouri Bougoudi within 24 hours or face removal by force (Tchad Convergence/Xinhua, August 13, 2018). Chadian forces were ordered to destroy all the miners’ goods and equipment in land and air attacks (AFP, August 16, 2018).

A CCSMR statement released on August 17 suggested that the movement was willing to consider releasing their prisoners (including three officers identified by rank and name) to the Red Cross or Red Crescent once the three imprisoned CCSMR leaders were released “immediately, unconditionally [and] safe and sound” (RFI, August 17, 2018). According to the statement, three columns of CCSMR forces were now in Chad to end “its economic crisis and dictatorship” (Tchad Convergence, August 12, 2018). Minister of Public Security Ahmat Mahamat Bachir in turn rejected the possibility of making any kind of deal with “savage mercenaries, bandits [and] thugs” (Tchad Convergence, August 22, 2018).

The Tibesti Mountains (Sakhalia.net)

The CCMSR claimed to have routed Chadian troops in a second attack in the same area on August 22, but local sources claimed the government forces had evacuated quietly, leaving the region open for the return of illegal gold-miners (Tchad Convergence, August 22, 2018). Reports of this second attack were again refuted by the Interior Minister, who described them as “the false reports of mercenaries” (TchadInfo, August 22).

President Idriss Déby declared on August 20 that “the era of seizing power by arms” was forever over, adding that “clinging to warlike rhetoric” was “a suicidal option” (RFI, August 23, 2018). The CCMSR’s spokesman responded by noting that Chad had enjoyed ten years of relative peace since the last major effort to overturn Déby’s regime, but in that time the president had done nothing to establish an effective administration or improve the lot of Chadians: “[The president] thinks himself powerful, invincible, untouchable. But we will prove the opposite to him” (RFI, August 23, 2018).

On September 13, two Chadian helicopters bombed Kouri Bougoudi, where a number of miners had failed to obey the evacuation order (Le Monde, September 14, 2018). Retaliatory government bombing raids in Tibesti are alleged to have killed civilians while cluster bombs are reported to have been used to devastate the camel herds on which the traditional local economy is based (La Croix, September 6, 2018). The bombing did not prevent another attack on ANT forces at Tarbou on September 21.

Battle at Miski

The ANT clashed with insurgents again on October 24 at a place called Miski, which has only recently been administratively detached from Tibesti region and made part of the Borku region, to the great displeasure of many of Miski’s residents (Jeune Afrique/AFP, October 25, 2018). Responding to reports of civilian casualties, Chad’s Defense Minister, Bishara Issa Jadallah, insisted that there were no civilians left in Miski and that the attack had been entirely initiated by “drug traffickers” and “traffickers of human beings” (RFI, October 25, 2018).

In reaction, CCMSR spokesman Kingabé Ogouzeïmi de Tapol said his movement was “determined to drive these Mafia criminals [i.e. the Déby regime] out of Chad” and called for “a total and widespread popular insurgency” in Chad (CCMSR Press Release no. 0033, Facebook, October 24, 2018).

Driving the CCMSR from Libya

Residents of southern Libya Fezzan region have grown impatient with promises to clean up the south from both the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), its Tobruk-based rival, the House of Representatives (HoR) and “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA). Armed locals have at times joined under-manned security operations in the south, most recently in mid-September when they joined an attack by the Salafist Khalid bin Walid Brigade on Chadian militants, freeing two hostages and killing six Chadians (Libya Herald, October 24, 2018; October 15, 2018).

The Khalid ibn al-Walid Brigade (aka the 104th Brigade), a mostly Tubu unit under the command of Yusuf Hussein Salah, has suffered recent losses fighting the Chadians; four fighters were killed in a clash on October 14, while a further six fighters who had been abducted were found dead four days later (Libya Observer, October 18, 2018; Libya Herald, October 15, 2018). In late October, the brigade was forced to abandon a siege of Chadian militant groups at a Chinese-built factory in the Fezzan’s Umm al-Aranib district, conceding that without further support from the LNA, the brigade was outmatched by the Chadians’ superior manpower and weaponry (Libya Observer, October 28, 2018).  Qatar, a supporter of anti-Khalifa Haftar militias in Libya, has been accused of helping to finance the CCMSR (RFI, August 14, 2018).

Shortly after discussing security cooperation with President Déby in N’Djamena on October 16, Haftar launched a new LNA operation in the Fezzan’s Murzuq Basin in October to “cleanse the south of the country from criminal gangs and terrorist groups.” To accomplish this, he assembled a joint force of LNA units that included the 10th Infantry Brigade under Colonel Muhammad Baraka, the 181st Infantry Battalion under Tariq Hasnawi, the 116th Infantry Battalion and the Kufra-based Subul al-Salam Brigade (mostly Salafist Zuwaya Arabs) (Libya Herald, October 24, 2018; Libyan Address, October 19, 2018). A UN Security Council report recently claimed Subul al-Salam has defied its mandate to control human trafficking on the southern border to engage in the traffic themselves, holding migrants at the Himmaya forced-labor camp in Kufra. [3]

Logo of the CCMSR


Chad is undergoing a massive economic crisis based on the decline in oil prices in recent years. Opposition leaders are regularly detained, as are the leaders of a civil opposition movement, “Iyina” (Arabic – “We are tired”). While the defense budget was largely untouched, there have been cutbacks nearly everywhere else and civil servants have gone for months without wages. With Chad’s citizens asking what happened to all the oil revenues already received in what remains one of the world’s most poorly developed nations, Déby’s regime may find itself vulnerable to an armed movement seeking an end to the Déby government. Should the CCMSR gain traction in the north, a desperate N’Djamena might be forced to withdraw MNJTF forces from the Lake Chad Basin to tackle a more immediate threat to the capital.


  1. For Mahamat Mahdi Ali, see: “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4010
  2. Blog of Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye, “Peuple tchadien meurtrie et inoffensive,” November 27, 2016, http://lepythonnews.over-blog.com/2016/11/peuple-tchadien-meurtrie-et-inoffensif.html
  3. UNSC: “Letter dated 5 September 2018 from the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” September 5, 2018, p.15.


Italy and Russia: Rivals or Partners in the ‘Enlarged Mediterranean’?

Andrew McGregor

Integrity Initiative, Institute for Statecraft (UK), November 12, 2018

The approach of the Italian-hosted November 12-13 Palermo Conference on Libya has seen dire but largely unsubstantiated reports of Russian Special Forces, mercenaries and intelligence officers arriving in eastern Libya, together with advanced weapons systems aimed at NATO’s soft southern underbelly. Their alleged intention is to control the flow of migrants, oil and gas to Europe as a means of undermining European security. The full accuracy of these reports is questionable, but there is little question that Russia is deeply engaged in reasserting its influence in Libya, as well as other North African nations that once had close ties to Soviet Moscow.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (Algeriepatriotique)

The task is far from simple; in Libya, Russian emissaries must deal with Libya’s competing governments, the Tripoli-based and internationally-recognized Presidency Council and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). In practice, Moscow has dealt most closely with a third party, the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar. Though nominally at the service of the HoR, the LNA is actually a coalition of former revolutionaries, mercenaries and Salafist militias under the independent command of Haftar and his family. The LNA controls eastern Libya (Cyrenaïca) and much of the resource-rich south.

While the Trump administration has indicated its disinterest in Libya in particular and Africa in general, Italy is also trying to reassert influence in its former Libyan colony, a project that is made more difficult by the contradictions created by the pro-Russian sympathies of the Italian government.

Russian Interests in Libya

Russia’s point man in Libya is Lev Dengov, a Chechen businessman and head of the Russian Contact Group for intra-Libyan settlement. According to Dengov, Moscow’s interaction with Libyan leaders is only part of an effort to restore economic ties with Libya. He denies that Russia supports any one side in the ongoing conflict.

Lev Dengoov (Russarabbc.ru)

Moscow does not deny the presence in Libya of Russian private military contractors (a modern euphemism for organized mercenary groups), but insists their presence is for legitimate security reasons unrelated to Russian foreign policy objectives.

Russia’s Tatneft oil and gas company is in talks with the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume operations within Libya that were brought to a halt by the 2011 revolution. The NOC operates independently of Libya’s rival governments but its facilities are often targeted by a broad variety of armed groups. Russia is also in talks to resume construction of the Sirte-Benghazi railway, a $2.5 billion project that was brought to an abrupt halt by the 2011 revolution.

A potential means for Russia to wield influence in Europe could come through domination of the Greenstream natural gas pipeline that carries 11 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Libya to Europe. Russia is already the largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the European Union; further influence over energy flows to Europe would place Moscow in a strong position in its dealings with Europe.

According to LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mismari, Libyans admire Russia as a “tough ally.”  Al-Mismari also noted that most senior officers in Libya were trained in Russia and that Moscow was providing medical treatment for at least 30 injured LNA fighters.

Haftar has visited Moscow three times and was welcomed off Libya’s coast for talks with the Russian Defense Minister aboard Russia’s sole aircraft carrier in January 2017. Haftar is eager to have the 2011 UN arms embargo removed in order to resume shipments of Russian arms as part of a $4.4 billion contract signed before the revolution.

Italian Relations with Russia

Italy is increasingly at odds with its EU partners over sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 after the Russian annexation of the Crimea and its support for ethnic-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The partners in Italy’s governing coalition are the League (Lega) Party and the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle). Both are broadly pro-Russian and Euro-skeptic.

In a mid-October visit to Moscow, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denounced the sanctions as “social, cultural and economic madness.” Prime Minister Giusseppe Conte is in agreement, calling the sanctions “an instrument that would be better left behind.” Salvini’s League Party is close to Moscow, having signed a cooperation deal last year with United Russia, Russia’s ruling party.

However, the Italian government is not blindly pro-Moscow or oblivious to its own interests; on October 26, Prime Minister Conte gave the long disputed go-ahead to the Italian portion of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, a $5 billion project designed to relieve Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

Italian Forces on the Libyan Border

Il Mediterraneo Allargato (Riccardo Piroddi)

Italy’s January decision to reassign troops from its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to Niger and Libya is, in part, a reflection of a new emphasis on what Rome calls il Mediterraneo allargato, “the enlarged Mediterranean.” According to Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, in this reshaping of strategic interests, “the heart of our interventions is the enlarged Mediterranean, from the Balkans to the Sahel, to the Horn of Africa.”

Italian Troops in Niger (RSI)

Italy has a small military presence in Libya, consisting of support elements for the Libyan Coast Guard (at least the part under the authority of the PC/GNA) and a military hospital in Misrata also acts as a military observation post. The Italian military presence in Italy was the subject of protests in several Libyan cities in July 2017.

After an eight-month delay, Italian defense minister Elizabetta Trenta announced the Italian mission to Niger, Operation Deserto Rosso, was ready to implement its mandate of stemming illegal migrant flows to Europe by providing training to Nigérien security forces patrolling the routes used by human traffickers and terrorists. Trenta added that, “for the first time, we in Italy begin to calibrate our own missions according to our own interests.”

Colonial Era Fort at Madama, Niger (Defense.gouv.fr)

At full strength, the Italian mission will consist of 470 troops, 130 vehicles and two aircraft. The mission is intended to be divided between Niger’s capital of Niamey and Madama, site of a colonial-era French Foreign Legion fort close to major smuggling routes near the Libyan border. There is no combat element to the Italian mission, which will focus on training Nigérien personnel rather than acting as “sentinels on the borders.”

Does Russia Intend to Control Migration Flows through Libya to Europe?

Rumors of Russian intention of building a naval base at the LNA-controlled deep-water ports of Tobruk or Benghazi began to circulate in January. Russian experts were reported to have visited the port several times to check conditions there. Initial Russian denials were followed in February by Lev Dengov’s claim that documented evidence existed at the Russian Defense Ministry proving Haftar had asked Russia to construct a military base in eastern Libya.

On October 8, the Sun, a UK tabloid better known for its “page 3” girls than cutting edge coverage of international issues, published an article claiming British Prime Minister Elizabeth May had been warned by British intelligence chiefs that Russia intended to make Libya a “new Syria.” Without revealing its source, the tabloid further claimed that members of the GRU (Russian military intelligence), Spetznaz Special Forces and private military contractors from the Russian Wagner Group were already on the ground in eastern Libya, where they were alleged to have set up two military bases. The Sun claimed their primary goal was “seizing control of the biggest illegal immigration route to Europe.”

Arriving with the military personnel were Russian-made Kalibr anti-ship missiles and S-300 air defense missile systems. The Russians were said to be providing training and “heavy equipment” to Haftar’s LNA.  An unnamed senior Whitehall source warned that the UK was “extremely vulnerable to both immigration flows and oil shock from Libya,” calling the alleged Russian deployment “a potentially catastrophic move to allow [Vladimir Putin] to undermine Western democracy.”

The Sun report emerged only three days after the UK’s Sunday Times revealed that the British military was war-gaming a cyber-attack on Russia based on a scenario in which Russia seizes Libya’s oil reserves and launches waves of African migrants towards Europe.

The deployment of advanced weapons systems in Libya in defiance of the UN arms embargo and in full knowledge that such a deployment would be regarded by NATO as a major provocation makes that part of the Sun story unlikely. Such systems would only have value as protection for a Russian base that, as of yet, does not exist. Haftar’s LNA is not under threat from either the sea or the air and has little need for such weapons.

Some of the Sun’s account appears to follow from an earlier but unverified report that dozens of mercenaries from the Russian RBC Group had been operating in eastern Libya since March 2017. This account appeared (without sources) in the Washington Times, a daily owned by Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. The article claimed the mercenaries were doing advance work for the establishment of a Russian military base in either Tobruk or Benghazi.

Lev Dengov suggested the Sun’s report could be an attempt to undermine the Palermo Conference, noting that “all reports about the Russian military presence in Libya, without exception, come from non-Libyan sources. How can it happen that no Libyan has ever noticed their presence?”

The deputy chair of the defense committee of the Russian Federal Assembly’s upper house described the Sun’s report as an attempt to discredit Russia’s war on terrorism: “There are no [Russian] military servicemen [in Libya] and their presence is not planned. How could they be there without official request by the country’s authorities?” Asharq al-Awsat, a prominent London-based Arabic daily, said that a number of Libyan deputies had told them there were no Russian bases in Benghazi or Tobruk.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Sun’s article was “written in a glaringly alarmist style, with the aim to intimidate the common British reader [with] a mythical Russian military threat.” Nonetheless, Russia’s RBC Media said a source within the Defense Ministry had confirmed the presence in eastern Libya of troops from elite Russian airborne units, though their numbers and mission was unclear.


Manipulating migration flows would require a continuous state of insecurity in Libya. A unified Libyan state could not possibly benefit (as militias and armed gangs do) from allowing mass migration from sub-Saharan states into Europe via Libya. As noted in the HoR agenda for the Palermo conference, illegal migration has led only to “the spread of organized crime, terrorism, looting and the smuggling overseas of the country’s assets.”

The 75-year-old Haftar, a US citizen, long-time CIA asset and alleged war-criminal who has spent much of his life outside of Libya, has had major health issues in the last year and is far from a secure bet to take power in Libya. Haftar has tried to devolve power onto his sons, but they enjoy little popular support. The LNA, a loose coalition or militias rather than an army, is likely to dissolve upon Haftar’s death into battling factions. This is factored into Moscow’s cautious approach in Libya, which is carried out simultaneous with probes (possibly including disinformation) to determine what activities the Western Alliance will tolerate there. Russia’s affinity for strongman types suggests that Moscow may have quietly thrown its support behind the aging Haftar while still keeping channels open with the ineffective but internationally recognized PC/GNA government in Tripoli.Italian and Eritrean colonial troops celebrate a victory in the conquest of Libya

Sovereignty is, and will remain, a sensitive issue in Libya, which suffered through brutal and exploitative occupation by Italian imperialists and later by Italian fascists. Even the Soviet Union was unable to get Mu’amar Qaddafi to agree to allow a Soviet naval base in Libya. Any perception that Haftar is willing to sacrifice Libyan sovereignty without legal authority for the benefit of himself and his family will do little to broaden his support in Libya.

Italy’s decision to work counter to the sanctions applied against Russia by the West will in turn encourage greater Russian expansion into Italy’s strategically defined “Enlarged Mediterranean.” Russia intends to build a sphere of influence extending through Libya, Egypt and Sudan, a strategic feat that is being accomplished through the disinterest of the United States and the acquiescence of NATO partners like Italy, which continues to struggle to reconcile Russian interests with its own.

The Thirty-Six Year Rebellion: Salif Sadio and the Struggle for Senegal’s Casamance Region

Andrew McGregor

November 6, 2018

Salif Sadio (Dakar Actu)

Low-intensity conflicts can be among the most resistant to resolution. A case in point is the 36-year separatist struggle in Casamance, the southern region of Senegal. While the conflict has veered between ceasefires and flare-ups, one man, Salif Sadio, has dedicated himself to keeping the separatist cause alive through his leadership of Atika, the armed wing of the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). The price of his struggle has been thousands killed and the devastation of the local economy.

The conflict in Casamance has much to do with its physical separation from the rest of Senegal by the small nation known as “The Gambia.”  The Gambia, which became independent in 1965, was a former colony of the UK, while the area surrounding it was French territory which became independent as the nation of Senegal in 1960. The region south of The Gambia is known as Casamance and was integrated with Senegal by an eastern land connection that left The Gambia surrounded by Senegal.

An attempt at union between Senegal and The Gambia in 1982 (the Senegambian Confederation) brought economic benefits to Casamance, but the local economy was hit hard when the confederation collapsed in 1989. Administratively, Casamance was divided by the government into the districts of Ziguinchor to the west and Kolda to the east in the 1980s in the hope of ending references to “Casamance.” [1]


The main peoples found in Casamance are Mandinke, Pulaar and Jola (or Diola). The dominant ethnic group in Senegal is the Wolof, whose central role in the administration is resented by many Jola, who make up only 4% of Senegal’s population.

By the 1980s, the Christian and Animist Jola people of Casamance began to speak of separation from an exploitative Musliim regime in the Senegalese capital of Dakar (Senegal is 92% Muslim). The Jola, representing roughly a third of the Casamance population, dominate the ranks of the MFDC, though many Jola see the movement as inhibiting development and have nothing to do with the separatists (Le Monde, June 19, 2012).

Salif Sadio and the MFDC are angered by Senegal’s planned expansion of its resource sector, which will include exploitation of oil, gas, zircon and other minerals in Casamance. The MFDC claim the proceeds of such work go directly to the national government in Dakar without any benefit to the people of Casamance. Sadio also claims these projects will cause environmental devastation, though his own movement is accused of partaking in the massive ongoing deforestation of Casamance.


The MFDC was founded in 1982 by Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, though a movement for regional autonomy had existed since 1947. [2] Atika was formed three years later in 1985. Oil was discovered offshore in Casamance in the early 1990s, emboldening the separatist movement, but bringing on massive government repression of separatist activities. [3]

The first split in the MFDC dates back to 1992, when northern elements were prepared to negotiate a settlement, but Jola-dominated southern elements, such as those led by Salif Sadio, were determined to offer armed resistance to the Senegalese state. [4] Dakar’s military response to the insurgency was to drive the MRDC into neighboring Guinea-Bissau with such intensity that it nearly created a border war with that nation, as well as creating alienation in the local population. [5]

Early Years

In 1998, Sadio crossed into Guinea-Bissau and joined the military rebellion led by Brigadier General Ansumane Mané. The Brigadier (then chief-of-staff) had been suspended on suspicion of trafficking arms from Bissau-Guinean arms depots to the MFDC separatists in Casamance. The MFDC had already been engaged in bloody clashes with Bissau-Guinean troops along the border in January 1998 and were ready to support a change of regime. In the civil war that followed Brigadier Mané’s June 1998 coup, the MFDC fought alongside the vast majority of the Bissau-Guinean army which sided with Mané against the government of President João Bernardo Vieira. Military intervention by Senegal and Guinea led to a ceasefire and formation of a government of national unity in February 1999, but President Vieira survived only until May, when a second coup overthrew him. In the meantime, Sadio’s support for the military rebels had solidified connections that would serve him well in the future.

Determined to exterminate the MFDC, the Senegalese military shelled Ziguinchor, the largest city in Casamance, in 1999, even though it could hardly be called a MFDC stronghold. The resulting civilian casualties and displacement of residents did little to encourage loyalty to the state.

The Casamance Rebellion

Diamacoune agreed to a peace agreement in 2004 that called for integration of MFDC fighters into the Senegalese security services and economic development in Casamance, but other factions of the MFDC rejected the agreement and continued their armed movement for separation. The agreement eventually collapsed in August 2006.

In early 2006, the leaders of other MFDC factions condemned Sadio for his unwillingness to join the peace process and threatened to “outlaw” him. [6] In the following year, Sadio purged most of the older commanders in his group, whom he suspected of moderate tendencies, and replaced them with more aggressive younger commanders. [7]

After several years of avoiding direct confrontations with the Senegalese Army, the MFDC stepped up attacks on the military in late 2006 after Moroccan troops arrived to assist in a de-mining campaign. The MFDC, which uses mines as an important part of their arsenal, suspected that Dakar had brought in the Moroccans to assist in an effort to capture Salif Sadio. [8]

MFDC Fighters (Xalima.com)

In March 2006, the president of Guinea-Bissau, João Bernardo Vieira (who had returned from post-coup exile in 2005 to be re-elected as president), with the encouragement of his rival and military chief-of-staff General Baptista Tagme na Wale, decided that it was necessary to expel Sadio’s forces from Guinea-Bissau to help further peace efforts in neighboring Senegal. Though military operations succeeded in driving Sadio from his base in Guinea-Bissau, Sadio orchestrated an orderly withdrawal into Casamance, mining roads behind him and mounting attacks on Senegalese garrisons near the border to allow his men to retake old MFDC bases in the Sindian region of north Casamance, close to the border with The Gambia. [9]

The charismatic Abbé Diamacoune died in Paris in January 2007, but he had already lost control of the movement he founded, which split before his death into three major factions led by Sadio, Caesar Badiatte, and Mamadou Niantang Diatta. With fighting between the groups unsettling the entire region, the Senegalese military sent armor and heavy weapons to Casamance for an offensive focused on Sadio’s Atika faction, the most intransigent of the three. [10]

Sadio found refuge in The Gambia, ruled by President Yahya Jammeh, a Jola Muslim known for corruption and his use of assassination squads who took power in a 1994 coup d’état. In 2007, several MFDC leaders claimed the government of The Gambia was supplying arms to MFDC “hard-liners” such as Salif Sadio. [11]

Heavy fighting broke out around Casamance’s main city of Ziguinchor in August 2008 as the MFDC launched a series of raids to steal the bicycles, mobile phones and identity papers of local residents. Farmers were warned by the militants that if they returned to their fields they would be treated as army informants (IRIN, August 26, 2009).

After relations with The Gambia’s President Jammeh soured in 2009, Sadio shifted his base back to Guinea-Bissau, where he enjoyed a good relationship with a former comrade-in-arms, Captain Zamora Induta, the new military chief-of-staff and a veteran of the military rebellion of 1998-1999. [12]

A shipment of Iranian arms was found hidden amidst building materials on a ship that arrived in Lagos harbor in October 2010. Investigators believed the arms were intended to be shipped to The Gambia and then distributed to the MFDC. The incident resulted in Senegal recalling its ambassador to Iran (BBC, December 15, 2010). Other arms shipments might have made it through; Senegalese troops were surprised in December 2010 when MFDC forces using newly acquired equipment such as mortars, rocket launchers and Russian-made “Dushka” machine guns killed seven soldiers near the town of Bignona (RFI), December 28, 2010).

Fighting flared up again in December 2011, when at least 12 Senegalese soldiers were killed in clashes with the MFDC (SAPA, December 21, 2011). The election of Macky Sall as Senegal’s president in March 2012 opened new opportunities for a negotiated settlement of the Casamance issue. Talks with Salif Sadio’s representatives began in Rome in October 2012 under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Vatican-aligned charity specializing in conflict mediation. Two months later Sadio’s faction released eight hostages in a gesture of good-will (AFP, November 10, 2013).

When Macky Sall became Senegal’s president in 2012, one of his first promises was to bring a swift end to the Casamance conflict. If the promise sounded familiar, it was because his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade had promised in 2000 to resolve the crisis in 100 days through a combination of disarmament, demining and large agricultural projects in Casamance (al-Jazeera, February 14, 2012).

To keep the peace, President Wade supplied the MFDC factions with cash and rice. Sadio was reported to have used the money to buy weapons rather than distribute it to his fighters as intended (Seneweb.com, April 10, 2015). Nonetheless, by May 1, 2014, Sadio was ready to declare a unilateral ceasefire, still officially in place today.


The MFDC in The Gambia

Back in The Gambia, President Jammeh’s long run as president came to an end with an election loss in December 2016, but Jammeh refused to step down to allow Adama Barrow, the surprise winner of the election, to take power.

After his election loss, Jammeh was reported to have recruited mercenaries from several West African regions, including MFDC fighters, to prepare for an expected intervention to remove Jammeh by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) (Liberian Observer, January 19, 2017). Senegal took leadership of the ECOWAS operation and Jammeh fled Gambia on January 21, 2017.

As relations between Senegal and The Gambia improved under President Adama Barrow, Omar Sadio, a son of Salif Sadio who had served in the Gambian Army since 2005, was relieved of his rank and arrested (Gambia Echo, October 12, 2017). His detention appeared to have been part of a sweep of suspected Jammeh loyalists in the military, many of whom were brought in by the ex-president from neighboring states in the belief they would be personally loyal to the president and not identify with Gambians.

Slaughter in the Forest – A Battle for Resources

The ceasefire was threatened this year by the January 6 execution-style killing of 14 alleged loggers in the Bayotte Forest of Casamance. Many of the hardwoods found in the forests of Casamance, such as teak and rosewood, are of high value. Much of the wood taken illegally is shipped through The Gambia on to China, where it is highly prized (AFP, January 24).

Casamance Timber Headed for Export (Daniel Glick)

Two armed men were killed by security forces in separate clashes shortly after the massacre as Senegalese troops rounded up suspected militants. Sadio promptly denied any involvement by his faction of the MFDC. In an interview recorded at his forest base near the Gambian border, Sadio insisted “The killing was only a pretext that served the Senegalese army to trigger military operations in Casamance.” He demanded the release of “innocent civilians” detained in the sweeps and warned that the MFDC’s unilateral ceasefire might end if the operations continued (Jeune Afrique/AFP, January 24).

Sadio, who has accused the army of cutting timber in protected areas, admits his men beat loggers and even burn their trucks, but insists they have never killed loggers (Jeune Afrique/AFP, January 24). Sadio rejects allegations that he cooperates with The Gambia to extract valuable hardwoods from Casamance (Senenews.com, January  24).

An emerging irritant is the plan by Australian firm Astron Zircon to dig out sand dunes on the Casamance coast to remove deposits of zircon, a gemstone with many applications. Locals fear the removal of these natural barriers to the sea will result in the salinization of farmland and drinking water (DakarActu, June 27) The government in Dakar insists the Zircon extraction will provide economic benefits to Casamance, but Sadio has warned that “the exploitation of zircon represents a declaration of war. Many times we have agreed with Senegal not to touch anything and wait for the settlement of the conflict.” [13]


Salif Sadio’s faction of the MFDC constitutes a destabilizing force in the Senegal/Gambia/Guinea-Bissau region. Prospects for a negotiated settlement in Casamance have grown remote with the split of the MFDC into three mutually suspicious factions. A military solution without coordinated regional cooperation is just as elusive, with MFDC fighters currently slipping across international borders whenever they are pressured.

Senegal’s government has tried different means of dealing with the MFDC, including pay-offs and military repression, but little effort has been put into addressing the social, economic and environmental underpinnings of Casamance separatism. Without such efforts, hardliners like Salif Sadio will continue to draw support from disaffected residents, particularly amongst the Jola ethnic group, whose culture and grievances have attracted little attention from government officials tasked with dealing with them.


  1. Aïssatou Fall, Understanding the Casamance Conflict: A Background, KAIPTC Monograph no. 7, December 2010, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B40UDxMwk8FATGZ4U19pMk5ZNGs/view
  2. Ibid
  3. Michael E. Brownfield and Ronald R Charpentier, “Assessment of the Undiscovered Oil and Gas of the Senegal Province, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau, Northwest Africa,” U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 2207–A, October, 2003, https://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/b2207-a/b2207-a.pdf.
  4. Wagane Faye, The Casamance Separatism: From Independence Claim to Resource Logic, Naval Postgraduate School Thesis, Monterey California, June 2006, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a451368.pdf
  5. Ibid
  6. “MFDC Murders Casamance Deputy Prefect: Are Hardliners Trying to Sabotage the Peace Process?” US State Department Cable 06DAKAR43_a, January 6, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAKAR43_a.html
  7. “Deterioration in the Casamance,” US State Department Cable 07DAKAR275_a, February 2, 2007, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07DAKAR275_a.html
  8. “Casamance: Escalation in Rebel Attacks,” US State Department Cable 06DAKAR3016_a, December 27, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAKAR3016_a.html
  9. “Casamance: Chief Rebel Stronger than Anticipated,” US State Department Cable 06DAKAR1005_a, April 26, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAKAR1005_a.html. Three years after the offensive against Salif Sadio, the rivalry between General Na Waie and President Vieira proved fatal. The general was assassinated in a bomb attack on March 1, 2009; the next day, Vieira, who had turned his nation into a “narco-state,” was hacked to pieces by machete by troops loyal to the general (The National [Abu Dhabi], March 7, 2009l; see also Anders Themnér, Warlord Democrats in Africa: Ex-Military Leaders and Electoral Politics, London, 2017.
  10. “Casamance: The 2004 Truce Has Ended,” US State Department Cable 06DAKAR2012_a, August 21, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAKAR2012_a.html
  11. “The Gambia: Further Strains in Ties with Senegal over Casamance,” US State Department Cable 07BANJUL250, May 15, 2007, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BANJUL250_a.html
  12. “Senegal: War and Banditry in the Casamance,” US State Department Cable 09DAKAR948_a, July 27, 2009, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09DAKAR948_a.html
  13. “Le MFDC réitère sa menace de reprendre les armes ,”August 30, https://www.podcastjournal.net/Le-MFDC-reitere-sa-menace-de-reprendre-les-armes_a25680.html


This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Violence and Viruses: How a Poorly Armed Insurgency in the Congo Poses a Global Threat

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor

November 2, 2018

Angry locals filled the streets of the Congo’s Nord Kivu province town of Beni on October 21, torching the post office, destroying parts of the town hall and throwing stones at vehicles belonging to health workers fighting a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. Eventually driven off by tear gas and live ammunition fired into the air, the demonstrators were enraged by the inability of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) troops and UN peacekeepers to prevent yet another terrorist strike in the town that saw 11 people hacked to death and 15 others (including children) abducted by militants of the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 21; AFP, October 22, 2018).

Nord Kivu province borders Uganda and Rwanda to the east and has absorbed defeated militant groups from both countries. Scores of armed groups are active in the region now despite the presence of large numbers of UN peacekeepers and troops of the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC – Armed Forces of the DRC).

After two decades of ADF activity in the Uganda-DRC border region, ADF operations are now centered round the Nord Kivu town of Beni, a hub for regional trade routes. Beni is close to Virunga National Park, the Ituri Forest and the Rwenzori Mountains, all used at some point as bases for ADF activities. The region is rich in gold, tin, timber and diamonds.

The Allied Democratic Forces

The ADF has its roots in the Ugandan chapter of the Tabliqi Jama’at, an Islamic revival movement which began to claim political persecution in the 1990s. Many of the jama’at’s members left Kampala for the wild Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda, where they formed the ADF by allying themselves with remnants of the Rwenzori separatist movement, fugitive Idi Amin loyalists and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group drawn from the Nande ethnic group of the Rwenzori Mountains. Today, most ADF members are locally recruited residents of Nord Kivu.

The ADF’s leader, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania in April 2015 and extradited to Uganda. When he was arrested, Mukulu was carrying no less than nine passports (Le Monde, May 15). Mukulu is a convert from Christianity who became involved in the Tablighi Jama’at and eventually adopted a Salafi-Jihadist stance with alleged ties to al-Qaeda (The Independent [Kampala], May 17, 2015).

The ADF was able to obtain Sudanese arms and training during the proxy war fought between Khartoum and Kampala, but this came to an end when the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan brought a finish to the proxy war.

The ADF has a low-profile and highly isolated leadership. Mukulu’s successor as leader of the main ADF faction is believed to be Imam Seka Musa Baluku, the subject of an Interpol red notice (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 24, 2015). As the prospect of ever actually overthrowing the Ugandan government grows ever more distant, the movement has splintered, losing any sense of ideological cohesion in favor of extortion, illegal taxation and resource exploitation.

The ADF resents interference in it local economic operations; a 2014 statement made their approach clear:

You, the population, we are going to kill you because you have provoked us too much. The same goes for the FARDC with whom we used to live without any problems…  Don’t be surprised to see us killing children, women, elderly… In the name of Allah, we will not leave you alone.” [1]

Other ADF factions include the Feza Group (more religiously inclined than the others), the Matata Group, the Abialose Group (commanded by “Major” Efumba) and the ADF-Mwalika. [2] Factional leaders have often married the daughters of local chieftains to strengthen local ties.

The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) succeeded in expelling the ADF from Uganda in 1999 and the rebels re-established themselves across the border in the DRC’s lightly governed but resource rich Nord Kivu province. The ADF has posed little threat to Uganda since suffering heavy losses in battles with the UPDF in 2007-2008.

The situation in Nord Kivu, however, is different. Some 700 civilians have been killed by the ADF since violence intensified in the region in October 2014 (Le Monde, September 9). Well over 200 civilians have been killed by armed groups in over 100 attacks in the region around Beni this year. [3] Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The poorly-armed ADF typically relies on the use of machetes and axes in its attacks on civilian population centers and relies on raids on military bases to obtain more advanced weapons. Fighters often abduct civilians and take them to their bases in the bush for use as sex slaves or porters. Children are trained to become ADF fighters. Women and children participate in ADF attacks, looting and finishing off wounded victims, including other women and children. [4]

Jamil Mukulu used to issue cassette tapes to condemn Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and the leaders of the West while urging violence against non-Muslims. Since his detention, the movement has drifted from jihadist rhetoric, or, indeed, any rhetoric at all, making its current aims something of a mystery.

FARDC Troops Targeting ADF Positions


The UN’s Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) was founded in 1999-2000. It is now the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, with 17,000 troops and an annual budget of $115 billion. [5] The ADF, who travel light and known the difficult terrain intimately, have proven far more mobile than MONUSCO forces.

Fifteen Tanzanian peacekeepers and five Congolese troops were killed at Semuliki in the Beni region in a December 2017 ADF attack (Reuters, January 13).  The assault followed earlier attacks on the Tanzanians in September and October2017. A UN investigation of the incident identified a number of weaknesses in MONUSCO: “The mission did not have an actionable contingency plan to reinforce and extract its peacekeepers… Issues of command-and-control, leadership and lack of essential enablers such as aviation, engineers and intelligence were also major obstacles and need to be addressed urgently” (Reuters, March 2).

The UPDF claimed to have killed over 100 ADF fighters in cross-border artillery and jet-fighter strikes (Operation Tuugo)  on ADF positions following the attack on the peacekeepers (New Vision [Kampala], December 22, 2017; Observer [Kampala], December 28, 2017). Uganda is suffering a wave of assassinations and murders mostly tied to local tensions, though Museveni (without evidence) has blamed the ADF for many of the killings, including those of seven Muslim shaykhs between 2012 and 2016. He has also blamed the DRC and the UN for harboring and supporting ADF terrorists (AfricaNews, June 6).

Insurgency and Disease

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever with an extremely high fatality rate. The virus is spread through contact with the infected bodily fluids of people or primates (the latter is known as “bushmeat” by those who eat it, including ADF militants). Ebola emerged in the DRC in the 1970s and has since killed thousands across West Africa.

Nord Kivu Health Workers (AFP)

The epidemic was announced on August 1, shortly after an Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s Equateur Province. The epidemic might have been detected earlier, but local health workers were on strike after not having been paid for seven months (Actualité.cd [Kinshasa, August 2).

Though health officials have initiated a vaccination program, there are other factors besides the conflict that inhibit its implementation, including the region’s often difficult topography and a strong degree of resistance to vaccination in some communities, resulting in flight into the forest where health workers cannot reach them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus could spread to Uganda and/or Rwanda at any time. In a worrying trend, the organization notes the 19 health workers who caught the disease by October 11 had all been infected outside health facilities, pointing to Ebola’s spread in the larger community (Al-Jazeera, October 11).

In August, seven people were reported to be suffering from hemorrhagic fevers at Mboki, a village in the heavily forested southern region of the Central African Republic, close to the border with the DRC. The lightly inhabited area is frequented by a number of armed groups who often rely on bushmeat. Tests done on rebels arrested in the DRC and extradited to the CAR revealed 80 per cent of them had Ebola antibodies in their system, suggesting both contact with the disease and their potential role as transmission vectors. Emmanuel Nakoune Yandoko, head of the CAR’s Pasteur Institute, has met with leaders of some of these cross-border militant groups and believes they could be usefully integrated into a disease surveillance system as they also fear Ebola and other fatal diseases in the region (Le Monde, August 17).

A recent OXFAM report identified several challenges to combating Ebola in Nord Kivu, including:

  • The need to change culturally-entrenched burial practices to reduce infection; Attempts by health workers to take over the burial of Ebola victims provoked attacks on them, forcing security forces to accompany health workers on such missions (Al-Jazeera, October 10).
  • The need to solve the puzzle of how to provide security for health-workers in a conflict zone while using as few FARDC and UN troops as possible in order not to provoke local flight into the forest;
  • Establishing health education programs in remote communities where Ebola is often ascribed to witchcraft;
  • Given the security situation, it is important to avoid gathering civilians in large numbers for vaccinations or other distributions.

The threat to health workers is serious; two nurses were killed on October 19 and there are three to four attacks a week against medical personnel fighting the virus. Many experience being stripped by the people they are trying to help and having their clothes burned in front of them (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 23).

On September 23, 18 people and four soldiers were killed in the streets of Beni. Most were the victims of machete attacks in an incident that again revealed the inability of the Congolese Army to secure even Beni’s urban center against the ADF, which looted shops until FARDC reinforcements arrived (AFP, September 24, Anadolu Agency, September 23). This attack and a second one on Oicha, a village about 12 miles north of Beni where Ebola cases have been identified, led to a 48-hour suspension in efforts to treat the spreading disease (AFP, September 25). FARDC and MONUSCO troops, who arrived well after the Oicha attack despite being based just outside the town, were met by stone-throwing civilians (AFP, October 11). In July 2016, 19 people were slaughtered only 300 meters from a Nepalese MONUSCO base at Eringeti despite an informant warning MONUSCO officers of the attack the day before (Le Monde, July 1, 2016).

FARDC Weakness and the Role of the UPDF

FARDC is far from a cohesive entity, being composed of both integrated and non-integrated former rebel factions with different languages and customs. President Kabila, who regards his army as a potential threat, relies for his own personal security on the three brigades of the Garde Républicaine. Pay problems are endemic and encourage trade and economic cooperation with the rebel movements they are intended to fight. There is little incentive to venture into the bush without remuneration.

With ADF militants wearing FARDC uniforms and operating with apparent immunity at times, there are major suspicions locally of FARDC corruption and collusion in the attacks. There is growing anger in the region at the military’s inability or unwillingness to bring armed groups under control. Locals arrested as suspected insurgents are often subject to summary executions. Many of the FARDC units operating in Kivu region are from western provinces of the DRC and tend to behave more as an occupation force than defenders of Kivu civilians.

General Marcel Mbangu

Led by General Marcel Mbangu, FARDC launched its own anti-ADF operations independent of MONUSCO in January. Though the military promised a conclusive campaign, local residents have noted lethargy and inefficiency in FARDC’s efforts, which often appear to be focused on self-preservation rather than protecting the community. [6] Belief in collaboration between the two supposed antagonists is strong enough that locals refer to “the ADF FARDC” (Le Monde, March 6, 2017). Both FARDC and MONUSCO suffer from poor intelligence work due to the suspicion and fears of the Nord Kivu community.

Military cooperation between FARDC and the UPDF is limited to a UPDF presence on the border to prevent ADF militants from escaping Congolese operations. A Ugandan presence in the DRC is unwanted in Kinshasha, as tensions between the two countries have remained high since the 1998-2003 civil war.

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos, an ally of President Joseph Kabila and commander of the anti-ADF Sukola 1 (Lingala – “cleanup”) operation, was alleged by a confidential UN report to have recruited, financed and armed ADF elements and others to carry out attacks on local civilians over 2014-2015. Included in the supplies were FARDC uniforms. The Brigadier denied the allegations, pointing out killings had continued after his transfer from North Kivu (Reuters, May 14, 2016). The UN imposed sanctions on General Mundos in February on the grounds he had incited killings in Nord Kivu (Jeune Afrique, February 2).

Other FARDC officers suspected of working with the ADF have been tried by the North Kivu Military Operational Military Court. Colonel David Lusenge was tried on charges of supplying arms and ammunition to the ADF, as well as participating in the planning of attacks on Beni civilians (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 15, 2017). A former senior ADF military instructor testified that Colonel Shabani Molisho and other FARDC officers supplied the ADF with ammunition in 2014 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 11, 2017). Colonel Katanzu Hangi was sentenced to 12 month in prison after being found guilty of collaborating with the ADF (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], June 6, 2017). Though three colonels were eventually convicted, there was a marked reluctance by the court to pursue allegations against more senior officers.


Over the last decade, the ADF leadership has avoided any public proclamation of their aims or intents, expressing themselves solely through their direction of uninhibited violence. The last negotiations with the ADF came in 2008, but were even then complicated by divisions within the movement.

Growing public anger in Nord Kivu with the government and its security forces works against local cooperation with health workers or the Congolese military. President Joseph Kabila’s term expired last December, but his refusal to step down has ignited violence across the vast DRC, taxing the resources of both FARDC and the UN. With little chance of a negotiated settlement or a military victory in Nord Kivu, the international community must address the question of how to tackle epidemics of disease in failed or failing states before they spread across borders in a shrinking world.


  1. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on International Humanitarian Law Violations Committed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Combatants in the Territory of Beni, North Kivu Province, Between 1 October and 31 December, 2014, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/ReportMonusco_OHCHR_May2015_EN.pdf
  2. United Nations Security Council, “Letter dated 23 May 2016 from the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo addressed to the President of the Security Council, May 23, 2016, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2016/466
  3. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” Human Rights Watch, October 3, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/dr-congo-upsurge-killings-ebola-zone
  4. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, op cit.
  5. https://monusco.unmissions.org/en/facts-and-figures
  6. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” op cit.


This article first appeared in the November 2, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.