WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to suspend the sale of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia approved under the Trump administration, but it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The plan, which was briefed to Congress last week, is part of an administration review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced soon after President Biden’s inauguration.
The original sales were met with strong opposition last year from Democrats in Congress, who are angry over the countries’ involvement in the war in Yemen and wary of the transfer of advanced military technology to authoritarian Middle Eastern states with ties to China.
The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Biden administration officials signaled at the time of the review that those arms, sold to the Emirates soon after it had signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.
killings of civilians, including many children, because of the use of such bombs by the Saudi-led coalition.
Raytheon Company, the biggest supplier of the bombs, lobbied the Trump administration to continue the sales, despite a growing outcry from humanitarian groups, members of Congress and some in the State Department.
The suspension does not cover sales of any other kinds of weapons to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. Weapons used by helicopters would still be permitted, as well as ground-to-ground munitions and small arms. Electronics equipment, including jamming technology, would also be permitted. The Saudi military receives almost all its weapons from the United States.
formally notified lawyers about the decision, which officials say was made this year as part of a lawsuit opposing the agreement brought by the nonprofit New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs.
The Emirates played a big role in the Yemen war but stepped back recently. As part of negotiations last year to try to persuade the Emirates to normalize relations with Israel, the Trump administration told Emirati officials that it would accelerate approval of sales of F-35 fighter jets and drones.
U.S. officials said on Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken received the report this week from other offices in the State Department, and that he was expected to approve it. The report would then go to the National Security Council for final approval.
“I and many other House members remain concerned about the proposed sale of $23 billion in arms to the U.A.E.,” said Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said he had “many questions about any decision by the Biden administration to go forward with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of the fighter jets, drones and munitions to the Emirates.
Israeli officials and some members of Congress have expressed concerns that the sales of F-35s would weaken what they called Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in the region, and that Congress requires presidential administrations to maintain it as a matter of law. Israel is currently the only country in the region with F-35s.
Other U.S. officials have been concerned about selling the F-35, one of the military’s most advanced pieces of hardware, to the United Arab Emirates when it is developing a closer relationship with China, which is notorious for technological espionage. American officials are worried about the radar and stealth abilities of F-35s and some drone technology, among other things.
Ms. Fontenrose added that some officials had additional concerns that the Emirates might employ American-made weapons, including Reaper drones, in the Libyan civil war, where it has intervened. She said the Emirates had provided the Trump administration with “assurances” on that front.
The State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss policies that had not been officially announced, noted that it would take years to complete the Emirati arms deal and that during that period the administration would ensure that the country was living up to obligations, such as to protect American technology and to ensure that U.S. arms were not used in contexts that violate human rights and the laws of conflict.
Mr. Meeks echoed that point. “Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur anytime soon,” he said, “so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed.”
Mr. Trump’s deal with the Emirates was approved soon after it had agreed to join the Abraham Accords, which normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time.
Some Democrats complained that the arms sales appeared to have been an inappropriate inducement for the Emirates to agree to the accords, which largely formalized a relationship that had grown steadily friendlier for many years.
“I still don’t believe it’s in our interest to fuel a spiraling arms race in the Middle East,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a leading critic in Congress of the arms sales and of U.S. ties to Gulf Arab states. “I have requested a briefing from the administration regarding the status of the review of both the U.A.E. and Saudi sales.”
SUEZ, Egypt — For six days, billions of dollars’ worth of international commerce sat paralyzed at either end of the Suez Canal, stalled thanks to a single giant container ship apparently knocked sideways by a powerful southerly wind.
The ship’s insurers and the canal authorities summoned the largest tugboats in the canal, then two even larger ones from further afield. They deployed diggers, front-end loaders and specialized dredgers to guzzle sand and mud from where the ship was lodged at both ends. They called in eight of the world’s most respected salvage experts from the Netherlands.
Day and night, with international pressure bearing down, the dredgers dredged and the tugboats tugged.
But not until the seventh day, after the confluence of the full moon and the sun conjured an unusually high tide, did the ship wriggle free with one last heave shortly after 3 p.m., allowing the first of the nearly 400 ships waiting to resume their journeys by Monday evening.
reconstruction of the ship’s movements through the narrow section of the canal north of the port of Suez shows the Ever Given weaving back and forth from one side of the canal to the other almost as soon as it entered the channel, gathering speed until the 224,000-ton ship tops 13 knots, or about 15 miles per hour.
internet memes about the epic traffic jam piled up, the Suez Canal Authority and the ship’s owner and insurer scrambled tugboats and dredging equipment to the scene. By the day after the grounding, they had called in a highly regarded team of salvage experts from Smit Salvage, a Dutch company.
“The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented,” Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Royal Boskalis Westminster, Smit’s parent company, said in a statement on Monday.
images emerged on social media of the ship, for so long diagonal, once again parallel with the canal.
celebrated the moment on Twitter, writing that “Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stuck ship in the Suez Canal despite the great complexities surrounding this situation in every aspect.”
Ms. Stausboll said that the authorities’ often overly rosy projections during the past week left many shipowners confused about what to believe. “A lot in the shipping community would wish there had been more clarity about what was going on in Egypt from the authorities,” she said. “It does harm your reputation.”
In the absence of a faster, cheaper option, however, the Suez Canal will remain a key artery for shippers, she said. And she pointed out that most ships, including large ones, have navigated the canal without incident in the past.
Shippers have, in any case, a more pressing concern: how to resolve the chain reaction of delays that may ripple out for weeks or months even after the Suez backlog clears, as it was beginning to do by Monday night.
The first ship to pass through the canal after the Ever Given got out of the way was the YM Wish, a 1,207-foot-long Hong Kong-flagged container ship that exited the canal at about 9:15 p.m.
If there is schadenfreude among ships, the YM Wish was perhaps not feeling it. VesselFinder.com reported the YM Wish ran aground in the Elbe River in Germany only six years ago. In its case, however, it took less than a day to float again.
Marc Santora contributed reporting from London, Nada Rashwan from Ismailia, Egypt, and Thomas Erdbrink from Amsterdam.
celebrated the moment on Twitter, writing that “Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stuck ship in the Suez Canal despite the great complexities surrounding this situation in every aspect.”
However, others involved in the operation urged caution.
While the ship was moving, what remained unclear was whether the bulbous bow — a protrusion at the front of the ship just below the waterline — is totally clear of dirt and debris. If it is still stuck in clay or obstructed by rocks, the early morning optimism could quickly fade.
Peter Berdowski, the chief executive of Royal Boskalis Westminster, which has been appointed by Ever Given’s owner to help move the vessel, told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS on Monday that he understood the bow to be stuck “rock solid.”
“The ship is like a giant whale that we have to slide off the beach, back in the water,” he said early Monday. Pulling the stern lose, he said, was the easy part.
“We shouldn’t start cheering just yet,” he cautioned.
The high tide on Monday morning peaked at 11:42 a.m. local time, and crews will continue maneuvers as long as the water remains high, according to the authority. The next high tide will crest around midnight.
Despite the note of caution, workers at the scene could be seen in images circulating on social media celebrating their progress in the predawn hours.
BREAKING : EVER GIVEN ship has been UNSTUCK & Moving into #Suez Canal after 6 Days!!
Egyptian crew managed to float it moments ago. It’s 5:42 am there: pic.twitter.com/GoMlYjQerL
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) March 29, 2021
There was widespread hope it was a a turning point in one of the largest and most intense salvage operations in modern history, with the smooth functioning of the global trading system hanging in the balance.
Each day the canal is blocked put global supply chains another day closer to a full-blown crisis.
Vessels packed with the world’s goods — including cars, oil, livestock and laptops — usually flow through the waterway with ease, supplying much of the globe as they traverse the quickest path from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the East Coast of the United States.
With concerns the salvage operation could take weeks, some ships decided not to wait, turning to take the long way around the southern tip of Africa, a voyage that could add weeks to the journey and more than $26,000 a day in fuel costs.
The army of machine operators, engineers, tugboat captains, and other salvage operators know they are in a race against time.
Late Saturday, tugboat drivers sounded their horns in celebration of the most visible sign of progress since the ship ran aground late Tuesday.
The 220,000-ton ship moved. It did not go far — just two degrees, or about 100 feet, according to shipping officials. That came on top of progress from Friday, when canal officials said dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship, freeing its rudder.
The company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugboats were helping, with two joining the struggle on Sunday. Several dredgers, including a specialized suction dredger that can extract 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, dug around the vessel’s bow, the company said.
Salvagers were determined to free the vessel as the spring tide rolls in, raising the canal’s water level as much as 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
It is a delicate mission, with crews trying to move the ship without unbalancing it or breaking it apart.
With the Ever Given sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which they were not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks, according to experts. Just as every high tide brought hope the ship could be released, each low tide puts new stresses on the vessel.
Teams of divers have been inspecting the hull throughout the operation and have found no damage, officials said. It would need to be inspected again once it was completely free.
And it would take some time to also inspect the canal itself to ensure safe passage. With hundreds of ships backed up on either side, it could be days before operations return to normal.
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting.
From the deck of a tugboat in the Suez Canal, where the Egyptian authorities allowed journalists to glimpse the salvage operation for the first time on Saturday, the Ever Given looked like a fallen skyscraper, lights ablaze.
Three boats that barely reached halfway up the word EVERGREEN painted on the ship’s side, for its Taiwan-based operator, had nosed up to its starboard side, keeping it stable.
A powerful tugboat sat near the ship’s stern, waiting for the next attempt to push and pull it out.
Together, the armada of tugboats — their engines churning with the combined power of tens of thousands of horses — have been pushing and pulling at the Ever Given for days.
Then, before dawn on Monday, the ship broke free from the shore and was partially refloated — a moment both shipping and Egyptian officials hoped marked the beginning of the end of the saga.
Once fully afloat, the ship can be easily controlled by tugboats and safely pushed out of the way.
It was a possible turning point in a drama that had been building for days, where optimism seemed to rise and fall like the tides themselves.
With the ship too heavy for tugboats alone, the effort on the water was being aided by teams on land, where cranes that look like playthings in the shadow of the hulking cargo ship have been scooping mountains of earth from the area where the ship’s bow and stern are wedged tight.
As the dredgers worked, a team of eight Dutch salvage experts and naval architects overseeing the operation were surveying the ship and the seabed and creating a computer model to help it work around the vessel without damaging it, said Capt. Nick Sloane, a South African salvage master who led the operation to right the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the coast of Italy.
If the tugboats, dredgers and pumps are unable to get the job done, they will be joined by a head-spinning array of specialized vessels and machines requiring perhaps hundreds of workers: small tankers to siphon off the ship’s fuel, the tallest cranes in the world to unload containers one by one and, if no cranes are tall enough or near enough, heavy-duty helicopters that can pick up containers of up to 20 tons — though no one has said where the cargo would go. (A full 40-foot container can weigh up to 40 tons.)
All this because, to put it simply: “This is a very big ship. This is a very big problem,” said Richard Meade, the editor in chief of Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence publication based in London.
With hopes rising that the partial refloating of the Ever Given means the Suez Canal will soon be reopen for business, shipping analysts cautioned that it will take time — perhaps days — for the hundreds of ships now waiting for passage to continue their journeys.
Shipping analysts estimated the traffic jam was holding up nearly $10 billion in trade every day.
“All global retail trade moves in containers, or 90 percent of it,” said Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analysis firm. “Name any brand name, and they will be stuck on one of those vessels.”
The Syrian government said over the weekend that it would begin rationing the use of fuel after the closure of the Suez Canal delayed the delivery of a critical shipment of oil to the war-torn nation.
And in Lebanon, which in recent months has been suffering blackouts amid an economic and political crisis, local news outlets were reporting that the country’s shaky fuel supply risked further disruption if the blockage continued.
With the backlog of ships now stuck outside the canal growing to over 300 on Sunday, the threat to the oil supplies in Lebanon and Syria was an early indication of how quickly the disruption to the smooth functioning of global trade could ripple outward.
Virtually every container ship making the journey from factories in Asia to consumer markets in Europe passes through the channel. So do tankers laden with oil and natural gas.
The shutdown of the canal is affecting as much as 15 percent of the world’s container shipping capacity, according to Moody’s Investor Service, leading to delays at ports around the globe. Tankers carrying 9.8 million barrels of crude, about a tenth of a day’s global consumption, are now waiting to enter the canal, estimates Kpler, a firm that tracks petroleum shipping.
The Syrian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said the blockage of the canal had “hindered the oil supplies to Syria and delayed arrival of a tanker carrying oil and oil derivations to Syria.”
Rationing was needed, the ministry said in a statement, “in order to guarantee the continued supply of basic services to Syrians such as bakeries, hospitals, water stations, communication centers, and other vital institutions.”
From the outset, when winds of more than 70 miles per hour whipped up the sands surrounding the Suez Canal into a blinding storm and the Ever Given ran aground, the forces of nature have played an outsize role in the drama that has disrupted the free flow of goods and oil around the planet.
Since the 1,300-foot cargo ship laden with nearly 20,000 containers found itself wedged in the single lane of the canal, salvage teams have had to calculate complicated questions regarding not just engineering and physics, but also meteorology and earth science.
And no natural phenomenon has been as critical as the tides.
“The rising and falling of the sea is a phenomenon upon which we can always depend,” according to the National Ocean Service, which is part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Tides are the regular rise and fall of the sea surface caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun and their position relative to the earth.”
The tides are constant, but they can rise higher and fall lower depending on the location of the sun and moon.
When the sun and moon are in alignment — as was the case with the full moon on Sunday — their combined gravitational pull results in exceptionally high tides, known as Spring Tides.
That is the case at the moment in the Suez, with water levels rising some 18 inches above normal. The most recent high tide peaked at 11:42 a.m., and the next will peak around midnight.
High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart, according to NOAA. It takes six hours and 12.5 minutes for the water at the shore to go from high to low, or from low to high.
This is the window for salvage crews to free the Ever Given. Each time the tide rises, the 220,000-ton vessel stands a better chance of becoming buoyant, and the scores of tugboats can use the tidal forces to help them in their struggle to free the ship.
But every time the tide falls, new stresses are put on the hull of the ship and the dangers rise.
The tidal flows in the Suez were at their peak Sunday and Monday, meaning this is a critical moment to finally free the ship. If the salvage crews cannot build on their progress to completely free the ship before the day is out, the tides will not be as favorable for weeks.
Cnes 2020, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Khaled Elfiqi/EPA, via Shutterstock
Suez Canal Authority, via Associated Press
EPA, via Shutterstock
Pictures of the ship, from satellite views to those on the ground, reveal the true scale of the issue.
Oil prices fell and then rose again Monday as news reports suggested that the Suez Canal drama might be drawing to a close.
Prices dipped more than 2 percent early in the day after tugboats and dredgers succeeded in partly freeing the giant containership Ever Given, which has been blocking the canal since early last week. News reports raised the prospect that the tankers waiting at the entrances to the canal might be able to transit within days and deliver their cargoes to Europe and Asia.
But then prices crept back up again after the Suez Canal authorities said there was more work to be done before maritime traffic could resume. By midday in London, Brent crude, the international benchmark, was selling for $65.15 a barrel, up 0.9 percent on the day.
The Suez Canal is a key chokepoint for oil shipping, but so far the impact on the oil market of this major interruption of trade flows has been relatively muted. Though prices jumped after shipping on the canal was halted, oil prices still remain below their nearly two-year highs of about $70 a barrel reached earlier this month.
Analysts say that traders are focused on other factors beyond the logjam, including the reimposition of lockdowns in Europe that may hold back the recovery of oil demand from the pandemic.
From a global perspective, oil supplies are considered adequate, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers, the group known as OPEC Plus, are withholding an estimated 8 million barrels a day, or about 9 percent of current consumption, from the market. Officials from OPEC Plus are expected to meet by video conference on Thursday to discuss whether to ease output cuts.
The operators of the Ever Given have said that the vessel ran aground because of the high winds of a sandstorm. While shipping experts said that wind might have been a factor, they also suggested that human error may have come into play.
Egyptian officials offered a similar assessment at a news conference on Saturday.
“A significant incident like this is usually the result of many reasons: The weather was one reason, but maybe there was a technical error, or a human error,” said Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chief of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s operators had said this week that its stacked containers had essentially acted like a giant sail amid the sandstorm.
But villagers in nearby Manshiyet Rugola noted that other ships in the same convoy had passed through the canal without incident. So had previous ships in previous storms, they pointed out.
“We’ve seen worse winds,” said Ahmad al-Sayed, 19, a security guard, “but nothing like that ever happened before.”
Shipping experts have asked the same question.
“I am highly questioning, why was it the only one that went aground?” said Capt. Paul Foran, a marine consultant who has worked on other salvage operations. “But they can talk about all that later. Right now, they just have to get that beast out of the canal.”
General Rabie said that ship captains are asked to keep any material that might be required for an investigation. He noted that 12 northbound ships had passed through the canal ahead of the Ever Given that day, and another 30 ships had traveled through from the opposite direction.
Last year, General Rabie said, 18,840 ships had traversed the canal without an accident.
After 10 years of hard labor — during which tens of thousands of Egyptian workers died — the barrage of the Suez plains reservoir was breached on Nov. 17, 1869.
For the first time, waters of the Mediterranean flowed into the Red Sea and the canal was opened for international navigation. For nearly a century, it was mostly controlled and operated by the French and British.
In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the waterway. But almost as soon as his government took control, it was forced to briefly close after an invasion by an expeditionary force of British, French and Israeli soldiers.
The canal was reopened in 1957 and, firmly under Egyptian control, it became a symbol of the end of the colonial era.
A second closing occurred after the June 1967 War with Israel and lasted until 1975, when Egypt and Israel signed the second disengagement accord.
President Anwar el‐Sadat called the reopening the “the happiest day in my life,” according to an account of the event in The New York Times.
He “stood in an admiral’s white uniform on the bridge of the destroyer Sixth of October as it cut a thin chain across the canal’s entry and sailed south from Port Said harbor at the head of a ceremonial convoy.”
Doves were released to celebrate the moment.
The saying goes that all good things must come to an end. But when it was announced that the ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for days had been set partially afloat again — and could possibly be freed before the end of the day on Monday — social media users lamented the news.
“PUT IT BACK” became a trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
THERE WAS SOMETHING DEEPLY COMFORTING ABOUT THE BOAT BEING STUCK AND I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF THEY COULD PUT IT BACK
— NOT A WOLF (@SICKOFWOLVES) March 29, 2021
In the five days that it has blocked the canal, the gargantuan Ever Given had single-handedly snarled global trade, shaking up global shipping paths and costing billions of dollars.
But the light relief that the vessel’s situation had brought to the world? Priceless, in some people’s eyes.
Thousands of people identified with the canal and the vessel’s stubborn determination to stay lodged across the vital waterway.
emotionally, i am the suez canal
— Sara Yasin (@sarayasin) March 24, 2021
Others shared handy guides on how everyone could do their bit to help.
The photo of a tiny digger working away at the mammoth task of trying to unstick the stuck ship firmly established itself as one of the most shareable memes 2021 has produced so far.
And after closely monitoring the situation, many shared their tongue-in-cheek answers to getting the boat dislodged, if only the teams attempting the rescue would listen.
After the news of the partial refloating, how long do internet users have to squeeze in the last of their jokes about the Ever Given? It’s anyone’s guess.
While President Sisi of Egypt declared his countrymen had “succeeded in ending the crisis,” shipping officials warned that the efforts to completely free the vessel were ongoing.
So is the ship still stuck? For the website built specifically for that question, the answer on Monday was: “Sort of?”
Five people, including the Czech Republic’s richest man, were killed on a heli-skiing excursion on Saturday when their chopper crashed near a glacier in Alaska, officials said.
The Czech billionaire, Petr Kellner, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5 billion by Forbes, was aboard the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it went down near Knik Glacier, the lodge that chartered the aircraft said on Sunday.
Mr. Kellner, 56, was killed, along with another guest of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic; two of the lodge’s guides, Gregory Harms and Sean McMannany; and the helicopter’s pilot, Zach Russel, officials said.
One survivor was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the Alaska State Troopers, which said that the National Transportation Safety Board would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the crash. Emergency responders said they were notified at 10 p.m. on Saturday that the helicopter had not returned from an excursion and that debris from a crash had been observed near Knik Glacier.
The accident was the latest misadventure for an extreme sport with little margin for error that has become a magnet for thrill seekers. Flights to remote mountains, playgrounds of untouched powder, are known for their steep price tags and risk.
The lodge, which offers weekly packages of $15,000 per person for shared accommodations and heli-skiing charters, expressed its sorrow about the crash in a statement on Sunday night.
“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said. “In 17 years of operations this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”
A representative for the lodge, which is in Judd Lake, Alaska, said she did not know what caused the crash. Officials said the helicopter was operated by Soloy Helicopters in Wasilla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lodge confirmed that it had chartered the flight.
According to the lodge, Mr. Kellner was a frequent guest and friend of the resort. His investment company, PPF Group, also confirmed the death in a statement released Monday, saying that the crash was under investigation.
“His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” the company said of Mr. Kellner, adding that the funeral would be held with only close family members.
Mr. Kellner made his first fortune in the 1990s after starting an investment fund, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the country’s largest insurance company.
In October, he acquired a major European broadcast network, Central European Media Enterprises, for $1.1 billion, raising concerns in the Czech Republic that the network might lose independence. But in a statement released at the time, Mr. Kellner said the acquisition was driven by “a sense of responsibility” and vowed that the network would retain its objectivity.
PPF Group has also donated millions of respirators and masks and thousands of coronavirus testing kits and swabs to help the Czech Republic in the pandemic, the Czech news media reported.
He was married with four children, according to his company’s website.
According to the lodge, Mr. Harms, 52, was a pioneering guide in the Alaskan heli-skiing community and operated his own excursion business, Third Edge Heli. Mr. McMannany, 38, had been a guide for more than 10 years and was an avalanche instructor, the lodge said.
Details about Mr. Larochaix, 50, and Mr. Russel, 33, the pilot, were not immediately available.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As gunshots rang out across a port town in northeastern Mozambique on Friday afternoon, nearly 200 people sheltering inside the Amarula Palma hotel confronted a devastating reality: The armed insurgents outside the hotel’s doors had all but taken control of the town and there was no one coming to save them any time soon.
For two days, hundreds of insurgents in the gas-rich region had been laying siege to the coastal town of Palma, firing indiscriminately at civilians, hunting down government officials and setting buildings ablaze as security forces tried in vain to repel them.
The violence sent thousands of people fleeing, with some rushing to the beach, where a ragtag fleet of cargo ships, tugboats and fishing vessels was ferrying people to safety.
But at the hotel, with daylight hours dwindling, the local residents and foreign gas workers who remained faced an impossible choice: Either wait inside, defenseless, for a promised evacuation in the morning, or try to make it to the beach.
campaign of violence the militants have unleashed. Insurgents have beheaded civilians in summary executions and left homes, schools and health centers destroyed.
Many analysts say that the insurgency is a home grown-crisis and that the group only maintains loose ties to the Islamic State. Still, the jihadist rallying cry has provided a banner under which mostly impoverished people angry about an array of local grievances can coalesce. It has also inspired the use of the international terrorist network’s brutal tactics.
Few journalists and human rights investigators have been able to report firsthand on the conflict from Mozambique, where government forces and private security contractors have also been implicated in abuses against civilians. And as the attack on Palma unfolded last week, phone lines and other communications in the town were cut by insurgents.
Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the department of International Development at the London School of Economics who is an expert on Mozambique.
The Mozambique government guaranteed Total that it would secure the development, and Total said it would not hire private security companies like the Dyck Advisory Group, which was recently implicated in a report by Amnesty International of killing civilians.
“This attack is arguably the most significant yet, given that foreigners also came under the cross hairs of insurgents and because Palma is the gateway to the gas megaprojects,” said Dino Mahtani, deputy director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group, who recently visited Mozambique. “It will lead to more pressure on Mozambique for hard military responses, perhaps at the expense of other policies that should still be on the table.”
Earlier this month, the United States formally designated the insurgency, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, as a global terrorist entity after the group became identified with the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province in 2019.
engulfed in sporadic fighting between the militants and national security forces as helicopters operated by the South African private contractors flew overhead.
By Friday morning the usually serene Amarula Palma Hotel, a sprawling compound with an outdoor bar and thatched-roof awnings that caters to foreign workers from countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom, had transformed into a chaotic epicenter of the crisis. By midday insurgents had surrounded the hotel and attacked, breaching its perimeter.
Helicopters operated by the private South African security company managed to evacuate 22 people. But with both fuel supplies and the light dwindling, contractors told the roughly 180 people who remained that they would not be able to fly them out until the following morning.
Dozens of people decided to chance an escape by road in the convoy that was ambushed.
On Saturday morning, the South African-operated helicopters evacuated around 20 more people who had remained in the hotel. Several others who had escaped the town and hid in the surrounding bush were also rescued by helicopters. Some had flagged the helicopters by writing out S.O.S. messages in stones, according to Mr. Dyck.
At the same time, a convoy of at least 10 vessels sailed into the bay of Palma in an informal effort to evacuate people, according to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com.
Twelve hours later, they sailed south together. Several of the ships docked at Pemba, where humanitarian workers say thousands of people who were displaced by the ambush were receiving aid on Sunday.
A passenger ferry that usually operates along the coast of neighboring Tanzania also docked in Palma on Saturday and arrived in Pemba the following day, according to ship-tracking data, satellite imagery and photographs shared on social media. Local sailors on traditional wooden sailing boats, known as dhows, also carried some displaced people to Pemba, according to humanitarian workers.
While some of the fleet’s efforts were successful, other boats that attempted to come ashore to rescue people were forced to pull back when militants opened fire with small arms and mortars, according to American officials. At least one American citizen was at the gas project site near Palma during the attack, but was safely evacuated to Pemba, according to a U.S. official.
On Sunday morning, Mozambique Special Forces units launched an operation to reclaim the town. But by Sunday night, militants still held much of Palma, including the harbor, the officials said.
One British citizen who was part of the convoy who worked at RA International, a contracting company headquartered in Dubai, was missing as of Sunday night, according to an executive at the company.
At least one South African, Adrian Nel, 40, was killed in the ambush on the convoy.
Mr. Nel had been in Palma working at his family’s construction consulting company alongside his brother Wesley Nel, 37, and their stepfather, Gregory Knox, 55, who were also caught in the ambush. The two men managed to escape to the nearby forest and hid until private security contractors evacuated them by helicopter the following morning.
“They spent the night in the bush, with Adrian’s body,” Mr. Nel’s mother, Meryl Knox, 59, said in an interview. Ms. Knox spoke with her husband on Wednesday as the attack unfolded andthe private security contractors who rescued the men by helicopter on Saturday.
“The insurgents had surrounded the hotel and there was no help from the Mozambican army,” Ms. Knox said. “These guys were just left on their own.”
Christina Goldbaum reported from Johannesburg, South Africa. Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, D.C. Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, Kenya.
Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa. John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. Charles Mangwiro contributed reporting from Maputo, Mozambique. Haley Willis, Christiaan Triebert and Malachy Browne contributed reporting from New York.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Suspected Islamist insurgents seized control of much of a town in Mozambique on Saturday after a three-day siege that has left at least several people dead and hundreds of other civilians unaccounted for as government forces try to regain control, according to private security contractors in East Africa and news reports.
Nearly 200 people, including dozens of foreign workers, sought shelter inside a hotel in the town, Palma, after nearly 300 militants flooded into the area on Wednesday, destroying much of the town and sending hundreds of other residents fleeing into nearby areas.
On Friday afternoon, insurgents attacked a convoy of civilians as they attempted to flee the hotel, killing several people and injuring dozens of others.
in a brutal war unfolding in the country’s north involving insurgent groups believed to be linked to the Islamic State. The conflict has left at least 2,000 civilians dead and displaced 670,000 more in recent years, according to humanitarian groups.
Over the last year, the militant group has grown in strength and seized large swaths of territory across the northeastern province of Cabo Delgado, which is home to some of the world’s largest gas reserves.
The siege this week is the closest yet the insurgents have come to a multibillion-dollar gas project in the area, operated by international energy companies, including Total, and the attack reflects an alarming escalation of the insurgent threat.
become increasingly brutal since the insurgency began in 2017, when militants ambushed police stations in the area. In recent years, the insurgents have attacked villages, destroyed schools and hospitals, and beheaded hundreds of people. The group itself has also grown from a few dozen fighters to as many as 800 militants.
At the same time, government forces have been implicated in serious abuses, including arbitrarily detaining civilians and executing dozens of people suspected of belonging to the insurgency, according to Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this month, the United States formally designated the insurgency, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, as a global terrorist entity. In 2019 the group became identified with the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, which also has a presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, though it is unclear how closely the militants are linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier this month, U.S. Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican troops in an effort to bolster the country’s counterinsurgency operations. On Saturday, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the United States to increase that support.
“Reports of the ongoing terrorist attacks in Palma, Mozambique describe a blood bath,” he said. “The U.S. and our partners must do more to combat this threat before ISIS controls more territory and slaughters more innocent civilians.”
He added: “We cannot let ISIS control territory like they did in the last decade.”
Eric Schmitt and John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. Charles Mangwiro contributed reporting from Maputo, Mozambique.
MANSHIYET RUGOLA, Egypt — The gargantuan container ship that has blocked world trade by getting stuck aslant the Suez Canal has towered over Umm Gaafar’s dusty brick house for four days now, humming its deep mechanical hum.
She looked up from where she sat in the bumpy dirt lane and considered what the vessel, the Ever Given, might be carrying in all those containers. Flat-screen TVs? Full-sized refrigerators, washing machines or ceiling fans? Neither she nor her neighbors in the hamlet of Manshiyet Rugola, population 5,000-ish, had any of those at home.
“Why don’t they pull out one of those containers?” joked Umm Gaafar, 65. “There could be something good in there. Maybe it could feed the town.”
The Japanese-owned Ever Given and the nearly 300 cargo ships now waiting to traverse the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most critical shipping arteries, could supply Manshiyet Rugola many, many times over.
ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.
Already, shipping analysts estimated, the colossal traffic jam was holding up nearly $10 billion in trade every day.
“All global retail trade moves in containers, or 90 percent of it,” said Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analysis firm. “So everything is impacted. Name any brand name, and they will be stuck on one of those vessels.”
take the long way around the southern tip of Africa, a journey that could add weeks to the journey and cost more than $26,000 per extra day in fuel costs.
In Manshiyet Rugola, whose name translates to “Little Village of Manhood,” traffic jams of any kind would be difficult to imagine in usual times.
Donkey carts piled high with clover bumped down semi-paved lanes between low brick houses and green fields lined with palm trees, trash and animal dung. A teenager hawked ice cream from his motorcycle. Roosters offered profane competition to the noontime call to prayer. Until the Ever Given showed up, the minarets of the unimposing mosques were the tallest structures around.
“Do you want to see the ship?” a young boy asked a pair of visiting journalists, bobbing in excitement under the window of their car. Ever since the earthquake-like rumble of the ship running aground jolted many awake around 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Ever Given had been the only topic in town.
“The whole village was out there watching,” said Youssef Ghareeb, 19, a factory worker. “We’ve gotten so used to having her around, because we’ve been living on our rooftops just watching the ship for four days.”
It was universally agreed that the view was even better at night, when the ship glowed with light: a skyscraper right out of a big-city skyline, lying on its side.
“When it lights up at night, it’s like the Titanic,” said Nadia, who, like her neighbor Umm Gaafar, declined to give her full name because of the security forces in the area. “All it’s missing is the necklace from the movie.”
Umm Gaafar had asked to go by her nickname so as not to run afoul of the government security personnel who had passed through, warning residents not to take photos of the canal and generally spreading unease. Nadia said she was too intimidated to take pictures of the ship at night, though she badly wanted to.
Villagers and shipping analysts had the same question about the Ever Given, if rooted in different expertise. The ship’s operators have insisted that the ship ran aground because of the high winds of a sandstorm, with the stacked containers acting like a giant sail, yet other ships in the same convoy passed through without incident. So had previous ships in previous storms, the villagers pointed out.
“We’ve seen worse winds,” said Ahmad al-Sayed, 19, a security guard, “but nothing like that ever happened before.”
Shipping experts said the wind might well have been the major factor, exacerbating other physical forces, but suggested that human error may also have come into play.
“I am highly questioning, why was it the only one that went aground?” Captain Foran said. “But they can talk about all that later. Right now, they just have to get that beast out of the canal.”
KABUL, Afghanistan — Nine security personnel were killed after an Afghan military helicopter was downed, likely by militia forces, in eastern Afghanistan early Thursday, signaling a drastic rift between the Afghan government and the regional forces supposedly under its control.
The fighting occurred in Wardak, a mountainous province that borders Kabul in the country’s east. There, militia forces led by Abdul Ghani Alipur, a local warlord with a spotty rights record, have been engaged in a tense, sometimes violent, standoff with government troops since January.
The latest clashes have pushed the uneasy relationship to its breaking point as the country moves toward an uncertain future.
“There was fighting, helicopters were targeting us, and when the helicopter was firing rockets, we had to shoot at it,” Mohammad Hussain Tawana, an aide for Mr. Alipur, said of the attack that occurred in Hisa-e-Awal Behsud district. He added that it wasn’t clear whether the crash was caused by the shooting or by technical problems.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and more than 30 were wounded.
The Afghan government suspended Allah Dad Fedayi, the provincial police chief of Wardak, for overseeing the forces that attacked the demonstrators. But Mr. Tawana, the aide, still cited him as a reason for the fighting that reignited late Wednesday night, as the police chief was simply reassigned to another province earlier this week.
“The people understand that there would be no action taken by the government because of the incident, so they finally decided to take action themselves,” Mr. Tawana said.
interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday, President Biden said it would be “tough” to meet the deadline, publicly hinting at a prolonged troop presence in the country that could scuttle last year’s U.S.-Taliban deal as the insurgent group has strictly opposed any such extension.
Mr. Biden added that he was consulting with allies on the drawdown, and said that if the deadline were to be extended, it would not be by “a lot longer.”
Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed contributed reporting.
Ukraine plans to nationalize a prominent aerospace manufacturer and cancel its acquisition by China, after the U.S. opposed the deal to keep critical defense technology out of Beijing’s hands.
The Ukrainian government’s national security council last week announced the decision on Motor Sich, a maker of advanced engines. The decision angered China, which demanded Ukraine respect the rights of Chinese investors, and the plans still must pass the Ukrainian legislature and could face legal challenges from the spurned Chinese suitors.
If carried out, the state takeover would end more than three years of wrangling that had placed the company and Ukraine in an expanding confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
It could also salve relations between the Biden administration and Ukraine, after the government became embroiled in U.S. domestic politics during Donald Trump’s presidency, weakening support for the country in Washington.
The nationalization of Motor Sich shows that Ukraine “stands with the U.S. even at considerable cost,” said Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington. “This was an excellent step that the U.S. should greatly appreciate.”
The White House and the State Department didn’t respond to requests for comment. U.S. officials in both the Biden and Trump administrations have said that Ukraine must understand China’s ambition to acquire and master vital defense technologies and stop the purchase. The Ukrainian government didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In 2019, President Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of then-presumed presidential rival Joe Biden, while the younger Mr. Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings. The phone call between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment by the House; he was acquitted by the Senate. President Biden and his son denied wrongdoing.
Nearly two months after Mr. Biden’s inauguration as president, he has yet to speak over the phone with Mr. Zelensky. That, a Ukrainian official said, has caused anxiety in Kyiv, which sees the U.S. as a vital partner in standing up to Russia.
“They are trying to please the Americans and trying to get their attention,” said Oleksandr Lemenov, a founder of nonprofit civil-society group StateWatch, which lobbies for transparent economic practice in Ukraine and has received funding from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, among others.
Kyiv is also looking at setting up a body to review foreign investments into strategic enterprises—a U.S. goal.
Motor Sich, once a linchpin in the Soviet Union’s defense industry, supplied engines to Russia’s military-helicopter fleet for decades. That came to a halt in 2014, when Ukraine and Russia went to war over Russia’s incursion into eastern Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
“ “They are trying to please the Americans and trying to get their attention” ”
— Oleksandr Lemenov of civil-society group StateWatch
Ukraine then banned exports of military gear to Russia, crippling Motor Sich’s business and providing an opening to China, a Motor Sich customer since the 1990s. Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, a private firm, led a group of companies that in 2017 completed a $3.6 billion purchase to control Motor Sich from shareholders led by company President Vyacheslav Boguslayev.
The U.S. pressed Kyiv to annul the deal, particularly driven by concerns that Chinese ownership would boost China’s efforts to build a fifth-generation fighter plane and a fleet of heavy-lift helicopters, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.
A Ukrainian court froze the Chinese transaction in April 2018, and the government’s antimonopoly committee opened an investigation into possible unfair competitive practices. Both actions effectively suspended the deal, with Washington and Beijing continuing to lobby Kyiv.
Then last week, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the Ukranian government’s National Security and Defense Council, said that Motor Sich would be “returned in the near future to the Ukrainian people, to the ownership of the Ukrainian state in a constitutional way.”
Mr. Danilov said that enterprises regarded as strategically important would be legally returned to the state, and their investors would be compensated. He didn’t provide a timetable or other details or use the word “nationalize” in his comments.
“This is being done for the national security of the country,” Mr. Danilov said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday demanded the issue be properly resolved and that Ukraine “take into account the legal rights of Chinese enterprises and investors.”
A Skyrizon official said the company is preparing to file lawsuits in Ukraine and in other countries. “We will vigorously defend and protect the legal rights of Chinese investors,” he said.
The U.S. has attempted to find a buyer for Motor Sich, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials, but the decision to nationalize could carry a big price tag, given the $3.6 billion purchase price.
Concern about the Motor Sich transaction persisted in the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations. In January, Motor Sich, signed an $800 million contract with Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a supplier to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, to build engines for its JL-10 trainer jet fighter.
Around that time, the Trump administration placed Skyrizon on a sanctions blacklist. Ukraine followed suit, freezing Skyrizon’s assets in Ukraine.
U.S. officials have advised Ukraine to establish an entity similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews foreign investments in U.S. firms, to have a legal basis to deny transactions such as the Motor Sich deal, said a U.S. official who participated in talks with Ukraine on the matter.
Ukraine’s parliament has taken up debate on legislation to establish such a body. Separately, Alexander Kornienko, the deputy head of Mr. Zelensky’s parliamentary faction, said in a recent briefing that he would introduce a bill in the coming weeks to deal with Motor Sich.
“It’s not just the U.S. telling Ukraine what to do,” a Ukrainian official said. “It’s important for Ukrainian national security to keep such companies locally owned.”
A backlash from China is likely to prove costly for Ukraine, which is financially troubled. In recent years, China has purchased tank engines, turbines for destroyers, aerial refueling tankers and landing craft from Ukraine and has also been a major purchaser of Ukrainian agricultural goods.
Last week, as Mr. Danilov was announcing the nationalization of Motor Sich, a delegation of Chinese businessmen met with officials in the Russian-backed government in Crimea, the Black Sea Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 and an enduring sore point for Kyiv.
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NAIROBI, Kenya — American Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican troops this week as part of an effort to repel a spreading insurgency in northeastern Mozambique that American officials say is linked to the Islamic State. The insurgency, near some of the world’s biggest gas reserves, has killed at least 2,000 civilians and displaced another 670,000.
The American program is modest in size and scope: a dozen Army Green Berets are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months. But it signals the entry of the United States military into a counterinsurgency effort that has been aided so far mainly by South African mercenaries, who have faced accusations of human rights abuses.
The war in Mozambique is part of an alarming expansion of insurgencies believed to have ties to the Islamic State in several parts of Africa. In the past year, militants have captured swaths of territory in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, including a port on the Indian Ocean, and beheaded hundreds of civilians, according to human rights groups.
“I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” Col. Richard Schmidt, the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Africa, said in a telephone interview from Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. “For this to crop up so quickly is concerning.”
accused the mercenaries of possible war crimes, including killings of civilians. More broadly, their effectiveness against the insurgents has been limited.
John T. Godfrey, the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, told reporters last week the United States was “concerned” by the presence of private contractors who have “not demonstrably helped” to win the battle against the Islamic State.
“It’s frankly a feature of the landscape in Cabo Delgado that complicates rather than helps efforts to address the terror threat there,” Mr. Godfrey said.
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said the military training program, which will focus on basic soldiering skills, could lead to more ambitious American help for Mozambique’s military including combat casualty care, planning and logistics.
The United States is also looking to step up intelligence assistance for Mozambique, the official said.
Last week, the State Department also imposed sanctions on a reported ISIS arm in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its leader, Seka Musa Baluku. Islamist insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State are also active in Libya, Mali, Niger and other parts of West Africa.
Regional experts, though, say some of those groups may be using the Islamic State name to sow fear and attract funds, while prosecuting conflicts that are essentially local in nature.
“They may be cloaked in the black flag,” said Mr. Mahtani, the Crisis Group analyst. “But what is motivating them to kill? It could be global jihad, but it could also be local conflicts and grievances.”