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North Africa, Mali, the Magreb
Topic: North Africa, Mali, the Magreb (Read 1803 times)
North Africa, Mali, the Magreb
February 20, 2007, 09:27:27 AM »
Its the NY Slimes, so read with care-- but several interesting things in this piece.
North Africa Feared as Staging Ground for Terror
By CRAIG S. SMITH
Published: February 20, 2007
TUNIS — The plan, hatched for months in the arid mountains of North Africa, was to attack the American and British Embassies here. It ended in a series of gun battles in January that killed a dozen militants and left two Tunisian security officers dead.
But the most disturbing aspect of the violence in this normally placid, tourist-friendly nation is that it came from across the border in Algeria, where an Islamic terrorist organization has vowed to unite radical Islamic groups across North Africa.
Counterterrorism officials on three continents say the trouble in Tunisia is the latest evidence that a brutal Algerian group with a long history of violence is acting on its promise: to organize extremists across North Africa and join the remnants of Al Qaeda into a new international force for jihad.
[Last week, the group claimed responsibility for seven nearly simultaneous bombings that destroyed police stations in towns east of Algiers, the Algerian capital, killing six people.]
This article was prepared from interviews with American government and military officials, French counterterrorism officials, Italian counterterrorism prosecutors, Algerian terrorism experts, Tunisian government officials and a Tunisian attorney working with Islamists charged with terrorist activities.
They say North Africa, with its vast, thinly governed stretches of mountain and desert, could become an Afghanistan-like terrorist hinterland within easy striking distance of Europe. That is all the more alarming because of the deep roots that North African communities have in Europe and the ease of travel between the regions. For the United States, the threat is also real because of visa-free travel to American cities for most European passport holders.
The violent Algerian group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French initials G.S.P.C., has for several years been under American watch.
“The G.S.P.C. has become a regional terrorist organization, recruiting and operating in all of your countries — and beyond,” Henry A. Crumpton, then the United States ambassador at large for counterterrorism, said at a counterterrorism conference in Algiers last year. “It is forging links with terrorist groups in Morocco, Nigeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and elsewhere.”
Officials say the group is funneling North African fighters to Iraq, but is also turning militants back toward their home countries.
The ambitions of the group are particularly troubling to counterterrorism officials on the watch for the re-emergence of networks that were largely interrupted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. While most estimates put the current membership of the group in the hundreds, it has survived more than a decade of Algerian government attempts to eradicate it. It is now the best-organized and -financed terrorist group in the region.
Last year, on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda chose the G.S.P.C. as its representative in North Africa. In January, the group reciprocated by switching its name to Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, claiming that the Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, had ordered the change.
“Al Qaeda’s aim is for the G.S.P.C. to become a regional force, not solely an Algerian one,” said the French counterterrorism magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguière, in Paris. He calls the Algerian group the biggest terrorist threat facing France today.
“We know from cases that we’re working on that the G.S.P.C.’s mission is now to recruit people in Morocco and Tunisia, train them and send them back to their countries of origin or Europe to mount attacks,” he said.
The G.S.P.C. was created in 1998 as an offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group, which along with other Islamist guerrilla forces fought a brutal decade-long civil war after the Algerian military canceled elections in early 1992 because an Islamist party was poised to win.
In 2003, a G.S.P.C. leader in southern Algeria kidnapped 32 European tourists, some of whom were released for a ransom of 5 million euros (about $6.5 million at current exchange rates), paid by Germany.
Officials say the leader, Amari Saifi, bought weapons and recruited fighters before the United States military helped corner and catch him in 2004. He is now serving a life sentence in Algeria.
Change of Leadership
Since then, an even more radical leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, has taken over the group. The Algerian military says he cut his teeth in the 1990s as a member of the Armed Islamic Group’s feared Ahoual or “horror” company, blamed for some of the most gruesome massacres of Algeria’s civil war.
He announced his arrival with a truck bomb at the country’s most important electrical production facility in June 2004, and focused on associating the group with Al Qaeda.
Links to the G.S.P.C. soon began appearing in terrorism cases elsewhere in North Africa and in Europe.
In 2005, Moroccan authorities arrested a man named Anour Majrar, and told Italy and France that he and two other militants had visited G.S.P.C. leaders in Algeria earlier that year.
His interrogation led to arrests in Algeria, Italy and France, where Mr. Majrar’s associates were quickly linked to an attempted robbery of 5 million euros at an armored car depot in Beauvais, north of Paris. A hole had been blown in a wall at the depot with military-grade C4 plastic explosives, but it was not big enough for the men to get through.
A later investigation turned up Kalashnikov assault rifles, French Famas military assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, TNT and two more pounds of C4. French counterterrorism officials say the group was planning attacks on the Paris Metro, the city’s Orly Airport, and the headquarters of the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, France’s domestic intelligence agency.
Italian prosecutors say a related cell in Milan was planning attacks on the city’s police headquarters and on the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, whose 15th-century fresco depicts the Prophet Muhammad in hell.
The G.S.P.C. or its members in Algeria appear to have become a touchstone for groups suspected of being terror cells across the region, in much the way that Qaeda representatives in London were a decade ago.
Wiretaps, interrogation of terrorism suspects and recovered documents suggest that the network has associates in France, Italy, Turkey and even Greece, which is favored as an entry point to Europe because of its relatively lax immigration controls, counterterrorism officials say.
There had been hints that the North African groups were planning more formal cooperation as far back as 2005, when Moroccan intelligence authorities found messages sent by Islamic militants to Osama bin Laden, according to European counterintelligence officials.
Evidence of an Alliance
Indications that a cross-border alliance was under way came in June 2005, when the G.S.P.C. attacked a military outpost in Mauritania, killing 15 soldiers. The attackers fled into Mali, according to the United States military.
Moroccan police officers raiding suspected Islamic militant cells last summer also found documents discussing a union between the G.S.P.C. and the Islamic Combatant Group in Morocco, the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya and several smaller Tunisian groups, intelligence officials say.
In September, Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, released a videotape in which he said that his global terrorist network had joined forces with the G.S.P.C.
The video was followed by an unsettling increase in terrorist attacks across the region, including one against Halliburton employees in Algeria in December that left one Algerian dead and nine people wounded.
But the strongest evidence yet of the G.S.P.C.’s North African cross-border cooperation came in January when Tunisia announced that it had killed 12 Islamic extremists and captured 15 of them. Officials said that six of the extremists had crossed into the country from Algeria.
Their 36-year-old leader, Lassad Sassi, was a former Tunisian policeman who ran a terrorist cell in Milan until May 2001 before fleeing to Algeria, according to an Italian prosecutor, Armando Spataro.
Mr. Sassi, now dead, is still listed as a defendant in a current terrorism trial in Milan, which began before he died. He was charged in absentia with providing military clothing and money to the G.S.P.C. while financing and planning suicide bomb attacks in Italy.
Tunisian officials say that Mr. Sassi and five other men — four Tunisians and one Mauritanian — crossed the rugged border from Algeria into Tunisia months ago.
They set up a base in the mountains of Djebel Terif, where Mr. Sassi trained 20 other Tunisian men in the use of automatic weapons and explosives.
A Trail of Violence
The decision to move against the group began when the police in the Tunis suburb of Hammam Lif detained a young woman in December who led them to a house where a gun battle left two suspected terrorists dead, two officers wounded and two other men in custody, a police officer involved said. His account of the events could not be independently verified.
Another arrest led the police into the hills toward the training camp.
Three of the militants and a Tunisian Army captain were killed during a chase through the mountains. Tunisian security forces mounted a search in which 13 more men were arrested and Mr. Sassi was killed.
The remnants of the group fled and members were later tracked down and killed in another gun battle.
Tunisian officials have sought to play down the G.S.P.C. link, and have said the recently dismantled group’s target was the West.
In fact, according to Samir Ben Amor, a Tunisian attorney who defends many young Tunisian Islamists, more than 600 young Tunisian Islamists have been arrested in the past two years — more than 100 in the past two months — trying to make their way to Iraq to fight the United States.
“It’s the same thing that we saw in Bosnia, Kosovo and above all Afghanistan,” said Mr. Bruguière, the French magistrate. “Al Qaeda’s objective is to create an operational link between the groups in Iraq and the G.S.P.C.”
Tunisia is among the most vulnerable of the North African countries, because its rigid repression of Islam has created a well of resentment among religious youth, and its popularity as a tourist destination for Europeans makes it a target.
Tunisian security forces found Google Earth satellite images of the American and British Embassies as well as the names of diplomats who worked in both buildings. But according to the police officer involved in the case and journalists in Tunisia, the targets also included hotels and nightclubs.
An attack on those sites would have dealt a heavy blow to Tunisia’s tourist industry, one of the country’s most important sources of foreign exchange. An April 2002 bombing of a synagogue on the Tunisian tourist island of Djerba, for which the G.S.P.C. claimed responsibility, helped sink the country’s economic growth that year to its slowest rate in a decade.
Last Edit: April 03, 2013, 10:44:39 AM by Crafty_Dog
WSJ: Shiraz Maher on Mali
Reply #1 on:
January 18, 2013, 07:23:37 PM »
This seems to me like a good background piece.
Shiraz Maher: The Jihadist Eruption in Africa
Al Qaeda affiliates capture Westerners in Algeria and hold a Texas-size piece of territory in neighboring Mali..
By Shiraz Maher
The hostage crisis that broke out on Wednesday in Algeria—where more than 40 Westerners were taken captive at a gas plant by al Qaeda fighters—ostensibly has its roots in Mali, Algeria's neighbor to the southwest. The hostage-takers claim that they acted in response to France's intervention last week in Mali to combat gains by a jihadist insurrection. But the story actually begins in Libya, where unintended consequences of the Arab Spring are now roiling North Africa and West Africa. When NATO forces decided to support the Libyan rebellion against Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, they could scarcely have predicted the impact of their involvement on the region's labyrinth of competing ethnic and confessional interests.
Gadhafi had long drawn mercenaries from among the Tuareg, a nomadic ethnic group known as the Kurds of Africa because they are spread across five countries without a state of their own. In the early 2000s, Gadhafi began offering his Tuareg mercenaries privileges, including residency permits. When the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya two years ago, and as his own regular forces began to defect, Gadhafi enlisted support from thousands of Tuareg fighters to suppress the rebellion.
Gadhafi was killed in October 2011, but death failed to halt the malignant spread of his influence, which was already well known to his African neighbors. His Tuareg forces—armed, trained and on the receiving end of much hostility in post-revolutionary Libya—retreated to redoubts in Mali, bringing with them caches of sophisticated arms, including heavy weaponry and antiaircraft missiles.
For decades, the Tuareg people have accused Mali's government of neglect, corruption and a failure to apply the rule of law. The influx of disaffected fighters from Libya revived their hopes of self-determination and culminated in October 2011 with the creation of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known as the MNLA. Last spring, this militia overran several towns in northern Mali and declared independence.
Although the MNLA's ascendancy highlighted the grievances of many northern Malians, the militia's success wasn't universally welcomed. Competing ethnic groups in the region, including the Songhai, Peuhl, Bella and Arabs, didn't necessarily want to be ruled by Tuaregs.
French troops rolling out of Mali's capital, Bamako, heading north in Operation Serval, Jan. 15.
.Political expediency makes for strange bedfellows, particularly when exacerbated by the privations of war. Last spring, the MNLA—though secular and principally concerned with ethno-nationalist interests—tacitly joined forces with jihadists who operate across the Sahel, a band of semi-arid land that stretches across Africa along the southern Sahara. The MNLA's new Islamist allies included al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (though most of the fighting was done by Ansar Dine). Their goal: ensure that Malian government forces would be incapable of launching a revanchist campaign against the rebel-held north.
Like the Tuareg fighters, the jihadists benefited from the Libyan civil war—a vast arsenal flooded the black market after Gadhafi's demise. Remarkably, much of the money for the arms purchases comes from Western governments. Jihadists in the Sahel—who have typically drawn less attention than their counterparts in the Middle East and South Asia—have focused less on high-profile attacks than on kidnapping Western tourists and holding them for ransom. Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Canada have all paid millions of dollars for the release of their nationals over the years.
By June 2012, the MNLA-jihadist alliance had effectively removed all traces of government control in northern Mali, creating an environment where Islamists can thrive: lawlessness, a lack of political authority, and weak civil leaders. The jihadists seized the opportunity to unravel their alliance with the MNLA and establish a semiautonomous Islamic state in the north. A draconian administration subjected Malians to a brutal interpretation of Shariah law, including executions for adultery and amputations for theft.
Internet forums linked to al Qaeda cheered the developments in Mali: Jihadists have never before directly controlled so much territory—nearly 700,000 square miles, an area the size of Texas.
The entire Malian state was in danger of succumbing to an onslaught from the north before last week, when the interim administration of President Dioncounda Traore called on the French to intervene. Jihadist forces were readying themselves to seize Mali's capital, Bamako.
American military strategists are known to have helped their French counterparts plan Operation Serval, which is trying to stem the Islamist push. The military dimension of the campaign is straightforward enough: kill or capture jihadists in the north, destroy their networks and deny them havens. The efforts by 1,400 French troops—supported by tanks, air power and likely some 1,000 more troops to come—is still in its early days, and counterterrorism, as the world knows well, can be a long and difficult undertaking.
It is what follows the military effort that will be of particular interest in Washington and beyond. If the jihadist element is removed from Mali, what remains will be an aggrieved nation fractured along sectarian and ethnic lines. The attempt to address those discontents while maintaining both Malian sovereignty and the government's authority will reveal whether the unintended consequences of the Arab Spring can be safely handled. For those tasked with containing the fallout from the Arab Spring's various irruptions—most notably in Syria—the stakes could hardly be higher.
Mr. Maher is a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London.
Triumph of democracy update
Reply #2 on:
January 19, 2013, 04:27:31 PM »
Must be one of those "spontaneous protests" we keep hearing about. I wonder how many white house staffers are frantically surfing youtube right now for a video to blame for this.
The EU and Algerian gas
Reply #3 on:
January 22, 2013, 10:41:42 AM »
Too bad the US doesn't have any natural gas to export , , ,
In Europe, the Strategic Importance of Algerian Natural Gas
January 22, 2013 | 1115 GMT
Developing Algeria as a major natural gas exporter is an economic and strategic imperative for EU countries as North Sea production of the commodity enters terminal decline in the next decade. Algeria is already an important energy supplier to the Continent, but Europe will need expanded access to natural gas to offset the decline of its indigenous reserves. With large conventional and unconventional natural gas reserves and suitable export infrastructure, Algeria appears primed to succeed Norway as Europe's primary regional natural gas supplier.
Until recently, however, Algiers has been reluctant to facilitate the large-scale influxes of Western technical and financial capital necessary to boost natural gas production to the levels required to meet Europe's needs. And while the government has become more receptive to foreign involvement in recent years, security issues highlighted by the Ain Aminas hostage crisis will at least temporarily cool Western enthusiasm for investment in Algeria. But a European energy crunch is looming and other options are lacking. Continued investment in the Algerian energy sector from Europe -- as well as attempts by European countries, particularly France, to stabilize the region -- can therefore be expected.
The United Kingdom and the Netherlands, two of the three traditional North Sea natural gas producers, are expected to halt exports of the commodity almost entirely before the end of the decade -- the United Kingdom has already become a net importer. Norway's reserves are more significant; the country is the world's third-largest natural gas exporter after Russia and Qatar, supplying nearly 19 percent of Europe's annual consumption. But Norwegian reserves likewise are expected to begin a steep decline around 2015.
The need to offset the coming terminal decline of Norway's output is a great concern for many European countries, which do not want to upset the balance in the diversification of their natural gas supplies. The Russian-Ukrainian energy crises between 2006 and 2009 made EU customers wary of relying too heavily on Russia for natural gas, prompting a string of diversification and integration efforts within Europe. Maintaining a predominant role in European energy markets is a political and economic imperative for Russia, and Moscow has taken clear and effective action to ensure the reliability of its future supplies to Europe -- most notably by building the Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines. But many Western European nations are unlikely to allow Russia to provide the majority of their natural gas imports.
Europe's Best Option
The problem for EU countries is the lack of proximate stable sources of natural gas outside of Russia. The EU-backed Southern Corridor project, which would pipe natural gas to Europe from Azerbaijan (with eventual but unlikely plans to pipe natural gas from Turkmenistan, Iran and northern Iraq), has been hampered by increasingly high costs and competition from the South Stream project. Liquefied natural gas from distant producers in the Middle East or the southern Pacific is an option, but importers would need to overcome obstacles such as high shipping costs and competition with Asian consumers.
Currently, Algeria ranks as the third-largest supplier of natural gas to the European Union, exporting some 10 percent of the bloc's consumption, primarily to Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. The country's export infrastructure is highly developed and features two sub-Mediterranean pipelines and three liquefied natural gas export trains, each with spare capacity. Moreover, Algeria has been willing to commit to long-term supply contracts, which are preferred by stable European countries that typically favor locking in advantageous fares for long periods of time. In early 2013, for example, Spain and Algeria signed a supplementary 18-year contract for small volumes of natural gas.
Algeria is particularly important as a future supplier for European countries that rely heavily on North Sea natural gas reserves. For example, France receives around 45 percent of its supply from Norway and the Netherlands. In contrast, Mediterranean nations that already rely heavily on Algeria have less interest in developing the country's natural gas output since they are insulated from the impacts of the North Sea declines.
Obstacles to Investment in Algeria
Energy is the lifeline of the Algerian economy, accounting for 36 percent of its gross domestic product and around 60 percent of the country's revenues. The country mainly produces a type of high-quality crude oil that is particularly sought after for blending purposes. Its oil exports are relatively well-diversified, so production fluctuations are unlikely to have major consequences on regional or global markets. With an estimated 4.5 trillion cubic meters of conventional natural gas, Algeria's reserves are the second-largest in Africa after Nigeria and more than double the size Norwegian reserves.
The Algerian government estimates that the country also has around 17 trillion cubic meters of shale gas. However, exploratory work on Algeria's unconventional reserves is still preliminary and technical challenges remain, particularly a lack of the freshwater needed for enhanced recovery techniques and hydraulic fracturing. More problematic is the poor investment climate in Algeria, which particularly afflicts the oil and natural gas sectors. Foreign participation in Algeria has suffered in large part due to protectionist policies enforced by the highly nationalistic military government. Foreign investment slowed during the decades-long civil war, which was sparked by the military's decision to invalidate a 1992 parliamentary win by Islamist parties. Algeria's state of emergency was not lifted until 2009 and the war was not declared over until 2011.
In recent years, there have been some signs of improvement in Algeria. With internal violence quelled and the military being relied upon less to stabilize the country, Algerian President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika's government has begun to slowly ease protectionist policies and lessen the burdens of its overwhelming bureaucracy. The appointment of Abdelmalek Sellal, a technocrat, as prime minister in September 2012 signaled renewed focus on Algeria's relatively underdeveloped economy.
Already, such moves have helped boost non-energy investment in Algeria, with Algiers signing an unprecedented number of investment and partnership agreements in late 2012. The economic crisis in the European Union has encouraged the movement of capital and expertise in struggling industries to markets outside the Continent, and geographical proximity to and historical ties with Algeria make the country a natural destination -- especially for European states on the Mediterranean. In mid-December, French auto manufacturer Renault signed an agreement to build a plant in the western Algerian city of Oran. Spanish and Portuguese companies then announced the creation of a multi-billion-euro joint venture with Algerian companies to build 100,000 housing units throughout the country.
Algeria has also appeared somewhat ready to tap into its potential as a natural gas powerhouse on Europe's doorstep. In 2011, the country inaugurated the Medgaz pipeline, which can transport 8 billion cubic meters per year between the Algerian port of Beni Saf and the Spanish city of Almeria. Other efforts seek to expand Algeria's liquefied natural gas export capacity by 50 percent.
Security Risks and Future Interventions
VIDEO: Algeria Ends Hostage Standoff
.The immediate fallout of the Ain Aminas hostage crisis will likely dampen Western enthusiasm for investment in Algeria in the near future. Western governments and companies are raising questions about the Algerian army's intervention, in which the government seemed to prioritize crushing the hostage-takers over the safe rescue of the hostages themselves. As the French intervention in Mali continues to develop, the risk of al Qaeda-linked militants in the Sahel targeting other installations remains.
A primary motive behind France's intervention is to contain al Qaeda's regional franchise, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other militant groups. Paris fears, among other things, that these militant groups could use Mali as a base for training, recruiting and launching destabilizing attacks on Algeria and its energy infrastructure. The sustainability of such operations will be an issue since public support for costly foreign interventions will likely decrease amid escalating financial and social crises in Europe. Already, France's opposition has decried the intervention in Mali as lacking concrete goals and international backing.
However, energy needs will shape the reactions of France and other EU members to situations like the hostage crisis in Ain Amenas. Even if appetite for involvement in Algeria dips temporarily, Europe will eventually be so dependent on the country for natural gas that EU members will have no choice but to invest further in the Algerian energy sector. The existing involvement of EU energy majors in high-risk countries like Nigeria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq indicates a healthy tolerance for instability and security problems. North African countries outside Algeria have also become increasingly important for France and Europe (France, for example, relies on Niger for nearly 70 percent of the uranium needed to fuel its nuclear energy sector). Thus, efforts by European countries, particularly France, to stabilize the Sahel will probably continue -- especially as the United States disengages from foreign interventions.
More challenging will be Algeria's reaction to the Ain Aminas events. The attack came at a delicate transition time for Algiers; should the security situation deteriorate in the country, Algeria may refocus its attention on national security and place the liberalization of its economy and energy sector on the back burner. However, early indicators such as the Jan. 21 approval to amend foreign investment laws concerning unconventional hydrocarbon resources show that after decades of intransigence, Algiers is slowly becoming more receptive to foreign investment into its critical energy sector.
Read more: In Europe, the Strategic Importance of Algerian Natural Gas | Stratfor
Col. Allen West interviews Frank Gaffney
Reply #4 on:
January 22, 2013, 01:17:41 PM »
War hero and recently defeated Congressman Allen West begins the next chapter of his life with PJTV interviewing Frank Gaffney
Islamists burning books again, this time in Mali
Reply #5 on:
January 28, 2013, 11:22:21 PM »
Pact with Niger
Reply #6 on:
January 29, 2013, 10:52:52 AM »
U.S. to Expand Role in Africa
Military Pact With Niger Brings American Forces Closer to Conflict in Mali.
By ADAM ENTOUS and SIOBHAN GORMAN
The U.S. signed an agreement Monday with the West African country of Niger that clears the way for a stepped-up American military presence on the edges of the conflict in neighboring Mali.
The U.S. and France are moving to create an intelligence hub in Niger that could include a base, near Mali's border, for American drones that could monitor al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali's vast desert north, U.S. officials said.
The Obama administration has agreed to provide air tankers to refuel French warplanes targeting rebels in Mali, sharply expanding the level of U.S. involvement in the campaign. WSJ Pentagon Correspondent Adam Entous reports. Photo: Getty Images.
.The moves show the extent to which the U.S. and France are girding for what could be an open-ended campaign against the militants in North and West Africa.
U.S. and French officials said they see Niger as a logical hub for intelligence-collection operations nearby in Mali, where France has deployed warplanes and ground troops to drive Islamist militants from cities and towns they have held for months. War planners say small air strips in Niger could be used as launching pads for spy missions and strikes.
The signing of the so-called status-of-forces agreement with Niger was a necessary precursor for American military operations there, officials said. U.S. officials said discussions with Niger on a drone base were at an early stage.
French and Malian Forces Retake Timbuktu
Energy Firms Focus on Risk After Algeria Attack
.The U.S. and Niger started negotiating the status of forces agreement last year to provide legal protections for American military personnel operating in the country. Talks took on added urgency after France launched its military mission in Mali on Jan. 11 against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and affiliated Islamist militants in northern Mali. The agreement is likely to be announced in Niamey, Niger's capital, on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.
The agreement signed Monday with Niger is meant to expand cooperation "to counter shared threats in the region," a U.S. defense official said.
U.S. officials said the agreement doesn't set out the precise number of American military personnel who would be based in Niger, nor does it prescribe what roles they will play. There are now fewer than 50 U.S. military personnel there.
U.S. operations in Niger to aid the French military campaign would represent a significant escalation by the U.S.
U.S. officials said new drone bases are needed near Mali to monitor militant activity because the U.S. doesn't have any in or near the new war zone.
Western war planners say small landing strips in Niger near the border with Mali are ideally located for missions using drones, manned surveillance aircraft and possibly U.S. special-operations units. That is because the airstrips in Niger are closer to militant havens in northern Mali than airstrips near Mali's capital, Bamako, in the south of the country.
The Obama administration has been wary of getting pulled into a new conflict in Mali, but hasn't ruled out the use of armed drones or special-operations units to help target al Qaeda militants—if intelligence agencies conclude that they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland, U.S. officials said.
The Wall Street Journal reported this month that the U.S. was ramping up intelligence collection efforts over Mali, and considering deploying unarmed drones and providing targeting information to the French. The New York Times reported on its website on Monday that the U.S. military command for Africa, known as Africom, was making preparations to establish a drone base in Niger or possibly another nearby country.
.Africom declined to discuss any plans for deploying drones—which are sometimes called "ISR," in military parlance—to Niger. "We don't discuss specific planning efforts, and in particular, we do not discuss specifics related to ISR, and intelligence matters," said Col. Tom Davis, a spokesman for the command.
American military personnel in Niger would likely provide counterterrorism training to local forces and help the country with border security, in addition to helping gather intelligence on al Qaeda in Mali, officials said.
Other countries in the region are also seen by U.S. officials as possible hosts for drone bases.
U.S. and French officials are concerned about any spillover of the fighting into neighboring countries, including Algeria, which, at the urging of Paris, has moved forces to try to close its long desert border with Mali. French officials said the goal is to prevent fighters from crossing the border to escape advancing French and African forces.
U.S. officials said they want to step up cooperation with the government in Algiers to fight AQIM and associated militant groups, as Algeria is one of the few capable governments in North Africa that fervently oppose Islamist militants. Current and former officials said the Central Intelligence Agency or the U.S. military may be able to reach a deal in which Algeria provides a drone base in exchange for equipment and training.
The Algerians have been fighting Islamist militant groups since the 1990s, when they stepped up their effort to counter extremists with the help of the CIA. The agency forged a good relationship with its counterparts there and Algeria was able to tamp down the threat considerably.
The Pentagon has small numbers of personnel and equipment scattered across Africa. The largest concentration is at Camp Lemonnier, a French-U.S. base in Djibouti, used to launch drone strikes in Yemen. The base is the headquarters for a task force of 2,000 Americans.
In addition to the U.S. personnel now in Niger, about 100 were sent to the region last year to help in the hunt for the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel militia in central Africa. Africom is based in Germany, and has personnel on the continent at regional African organizations, such as the African Union.
The agreement with Niger, "would provide a U.S. foothold, a launching pad, in the region to try to stem the threat of Islamic extremism in the region," said Seth Jones, a former Pentagon adviser and an al Qaeda specialist at the Rand Corp.
He said U.S. officials have a "very serious concern" that even if the French succeed in Mali, the Islamic extremist threat will continue to spread in the region in countries such as Mauritania, Nigeria and Niger.
After a two-week legal and policy review, the White House agreed to provide three air tankers to refuel French warplanes over Mali. The U.S. also is providing cargo planes to transport French troops and equipment.
The U.S. military has forged a relationship with its counterparts in Niger for a decade, dating to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Jones said.
The Niger military staged a coup in 2010 after then-President Mamadou Tandja attempted to extend his term. The military junta scheduled a presidential election for 2011, returning power to civilian authorities and clearing the way for stepped-up U.S. military support.
— Julian E. Barnes contributed to this article.
Write to Adam Entous at
and Siobhan Gorman at
Gedrich: Let's look before we leap
Reply #7 on:
January 30, 2013, 10:31:51 AM »
GEDRICH: A long look before a leap into a war in Mali
This is action best left to Africans
By Fred Gedrich
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
France’s military intervention into Mali, with varying degrees of British and American support, to save its former colony from an Islamist rebel takeover could easily escalate into an unmanageable situation and cost a lot of blood and treasure. Violent African-based groups are not easily tamed.
The three Western allies fear Mali could become a new hub for al Qaeda-style global terrorism, and some want to stop it, regardless of cost and time. It would behoove them to examine some basic facts and problems before continuing such a risky endeavor in Africa.
First, they need to fully grasp the growing influence of Islam, which produces al Qaeda movement operatives and sympathizers among its extreme practitioners. Muslims comprise about 42 percent of the population of Africa (464 million of 1.1 billion people). They represent a heavy presence in 38 of 54 countries (10 percent or more of the population). Moreover, 27 African nations, including Mali, are Organization of Islamic Cooperation members — a group promoting Islam, Islamic interests and Shariah law. Mali’s 15.5 million people are 90 percent Muslim.
Second, the allies must be able to distinguish Islamists and jihadists from the overall Muslim population. An Islamist is any Muslim who wants to impose and enforce Shariah — whether by violent or nonviolent means. A jihadist is an Islamist terrorist. The Muslim Brotherhood, which gestates Islamists, have succeeded in taking over Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, using mostly nonviolent means to create Shariah-compliant constitutions. Islamist terrorists — like al Qaeda affiliates Ansar al Shariah (Partisans of Islamic Law), Katibat Moulathamine (The Masked Brigade) and Ansar Dine (Helpers of the Islamic Religion), which attacked the American mission in Benghazi, assaulted the Algerian gas plant and helped take over northern Mali, respectively — use violent means to install and enforce Shariah.
Third, the allies need to understand Shariah law. Shariah totally subordinates women and mandates many other human rights violations, such as relegating non-Muslim minorities to a much lower legal status than Muslims and dispensing cruel and unusual punishment. It also rejects freedom of speech and conscience and mandates aggressive jihad until the world is brought under Islamic hegemony.
Fourth, the allies must learn as much as possible about Mali and its civil war. The war mostly pits northern Muslim Tuareg desert nomads and stateless Ansar Dine jihadists who served as Moammar Gadhafi mercenaries in Libya against southern, poorly equipped and trained Muslim military troops from the savannah. French troops and warplanes entered the war on the side of Malian troops, who had several months earlier overthrown Mali’s duly elected government, once considered a model African democracy.
The fifth thing for the allies to be aware of is the nation-building trap. The United Nations and other organizations will expect the allies to rebuild Mali’s political, economic, educational and social institutions once their military mission is complete. This will be an enormous undertaking. The Malian life span averages 53 years, 69 percent of the population can’t read and write, the average annual income is $1,100, and the civil war has already displaced more than a quarter-million residents and worsened a drought-driven food shortage expected to impact 13 million people.
Sixth, the allies need to understand that many African countries are prone to civil wars, genocide, anarchy and political upheavals. Former colonial powers entering Africa for military purposes could trigger more continental violence. Angola, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan exemplify the madness that has killed and displaced tens of millions in recent decades, fueled as much by racial, ethnic or religious animosities as by ideological fervor and hatred of former colonial masters.
Since the 1950s, seven Western countries have poured more than $1 trillion of aid into African humanitarian projects with little success. The average African life span is 54 years, the average annual income is $2,900, and the literacy rate is 58 percent — compared with the rest of the world’s 71-year average life span, $13,763 per capita gross domestic product, and 89 percent reading and writing proficiency. Additionally, Freedom House’s 2013 annual report reveals that only 110 million of Africa’s 1.1 billion residents enjoy full freedom.
Eight hostile African leaders, like Zimbabwe’s dictator-for-life Robert Mugabe, harbor deep resentment toward the United States and former colonial rulers. They can easily whip up African opposition against Western military interventions and antiterrorism policies.
Any Western-led military foray into Africa is fraught with danger. The allies’ Libyan military misadventure set off a deadly chain of events, causing calamities in Libya as well as Mali and Algeria. Prime responsibility for Mali peacemaking, peacekeeping and nation-building should rest with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations — not France, Great Britain or the United States.
Fred Gedrich served in the U.S. departments of State and Defense, and is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He has traveled extensively in Africa.
POTH: Hollande in Timbuktu; WSJ
Reply #8 on:
February 03, 2013, 09:15:35 AM »
and WSJ Editorial:
The Fall of Timbuktu
In Mali, the French have been the margin between civilization and barbarism..
Reading accounts of France's struggles to deploy a few thousand troops to its former colony of Mali, we found ourselves wondering: Whatever happened to the French Foreign Legion? Next thing we know, the city of Timbuktu has been taken from al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) by the Legion itself. Well, well: Tiens, voilà du boudin .
Brush wars can be a dirty business. In respect to Mali, there's been no shortage of commentary noting that the government to whose rescue France has come is the product of a military coup. It is also noted that the war in Mali is an ethnic conflict, in which AQIM piggybacked on a separatist Tuareg movement. In other words, it's all very complicated and morally ambiguous.
But tell that to the Malians who have greeted the French advance with cries of Vive la France! and merci, merci, merci. During AQIM's nine month reign of terror, the group tried to trash Timbuktu's historic libraries and other cultural treasures, and subjected the population to the kind of Sharia justice the Taliban made infamous in Afghanistan.
"Even if you're talking to your own blood brother, they [AQIM] hit you," one female resident told the Associated Press. "Even if you are wearing the veil, and it happens to slip off, they hit you." Said another: "We were totally deprived of our liberty. We couldn't listen to music, we couldn't play soccer. We couldn't wear the clothes we wanted."
After taking Timbuktu on Monday, French and Malian troops liberated the last AQIM stronghold of Kidal three days later, and Francois Hollande declared "we are winning this fight." That declaration is probably premature, especially if the French President decides to pull up stakes quickly.
Much better to leave a detachment of Legionnaires in-country to prevent AQIM from regrouping. The U.S. plan to establish a base for drones in neighboring Niger could also be a significant contribution to security in the Sahel, and would go some way toward redeeming the Obama Administration's nonfeasance in Mali. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb has no intention of going away, and the West needs to gird for the long haul.
Meantime, it's worth celebrating the French feat of arms. In Mali, they have been the margin between civilization and barbarism.
Last Edit: February 03, 2013, 12:56:40 PM by Crafty_Dog
Stratfor on Mali
Reply #9 on:
March 20, 2013, 09:05:25 PM »
The ongoing conflict in Mali is rooted deep in history and is, in part, a product of geography. Indeed, history and geography are intertwined in the region, and understanding them helps explain Mali's physical borders, severe regional differences and the recurring threat of rebellion emanating from the north.
The Niger River essentially divides the country into two distinct regions -- one arid and conducive to nomadism, the other relatively verdant and ideal for societal development. Each has distinct historical imperatives, economic foundations and levels of political power in the central government. Historically, geography fueled the development of trading centers in Mali, shaped competition with regional empires and attracted colonizers. Today, with multinational forces still attempting to uproot jihadists in northern Mali, the effects of history and geography remain evident.
The borders that define modern Mali -- as well as its preceding empires -- vary by region. The long, straight borders of northeastern Mali run through the Sahara desert, circumscribing the rocky, sandy region north of the Niger River. The more jagged borders of southwestern Mali surround the country's verdant, most populous regions and its most valuable agricultural and mineral resources. Running roughly through the middle of the country is the Niger River -- essentially the country's backbone.
The geographic distinctions of the regions north and south of the Niger River have bred economic, ethnic and societal differences as well. For example, the inhospitable north is inhabited primarily by the Tuaregs, who traditionally have had a nomadic culture and survived by herding animals and trading goods. While the north has few factors ideal for human settlement, the terrain in southern Mali boasts thicker vegetation, a more humid climate and more consistent rainfall. Historically, this environment has allowed the region's myriad ethnic groups -- most related to the Mande people -- to cultivate an agricultural economy. Southern ethnic groups have also been heavily involved in mining activities.
Distinct Historical Imperatives
Historically, the desert terrain in the north was part of important trans-Saharan trade routes, and for centuries, Malians alternated between trading and clashing with other North African empires. For example, the Moroccan empire would occasionally support desert raiders or conduct its own southward invasions. To protect trade revenues, regional empires needed to maintain access to the desert trade routes -- and the water features that supported them -- so defending the region against indigenous raiders and foreign powers was imperative. Indeed, today's borders, which were not demarcated until colonial times, represent the need to guarantee buffers against dangers emanating from elsewhere in the desert.
VIDEO: Mali's Geographic Challenge
Southern Mali's humid, tropical environment, in turn, protected the region from northern empires, whose armies depended on cavalries that were vulnerable to disease in the unfriendly climate. This factor also prevented southern societies from raising their own cavalries, which these societies would have needed to expand widely.
Farther west, empires occupying territory that includes parts of modern day Mali extended their reach along the Senegal and Gambia rivers all the way to the Atlantic coast. As trans-Saharan trade later declined, however, separate economic systems arose along the coast and the upper Niger River. This shift fueled the rise of stronger coastal societies, eroding the regional dominance of those based along the inland Niger Delta.
Unity and the Decline of the North
Trading settlements began blooming along the Niger River as early as 250 B.C. Some of these cities, including the fabled Timbuktu, united in the 13th century to form the Malian Empire -- the first entity resembling modern Mali. The trade along the Niger River fed into the trans-Saharan trade, and the area functioned as the major staging area for the transport of goods and people from West Africa through the Sahara Desert.
While Mali was united in the 13th century, the northern and southern regions still served separate purposes. The southwestern part of modern day Mali was a major gold producer -- indeed, an estimated half of the gold production in the world at the time originated from the Malian Empire. In addition to its role facilitating trade through the Sahara, the north produced salt, an expensive and necessary commodity in those days.
But when global trade patterns changed during the 17th century due to the colonial ambitions of European powers, seaborne transportation became the most cost-effective way to export Malian commodities. As a result, the trans-Saharan routes were eventually abandoned, as well as the northern trade in salt. Northern Mali and the trading cities along the Niger River went into decline and never quite recovered.
Colonialism and Rebellion
When French colonizers arrived in 1892, they were interested primarily in southern Mali and its gold reserves and agricultural resources. The French -- like other former rulers -- did not want the north to devolve into an anarchic security vacuum, conducive to threats posed by desert raiders. But they also did not want to pay the heavy political and economic costs or provide forces on the scale that would be necessary to control the vast region. Instead, they chose to partner with pliant local forces, usually by arming them to fight against other militias perceived as threats to French interests.
The distinct histories of Mali's two main regions have led to political differences and unequal weight in the central government. While the political core of Mali has always been located in the southern part of the country -- primarily because sedentary civilizations tend to be better suited for political organization than nomadic cultures -- this socio-economic gap continued to widen after the end of French colonial rule.
VIDEO: Challenges to Security in Northwest Africa (Agenda)
The French strategy of indirectly controlling northern Mali has largely continued since independence. As a result, the northern nomadic tribes have retained a certain degree of autonomy. And this, combined with the decline of the north's economic resources and its minimal involvement in global trade, has made the region home to a flourishing trade of illicit goods such as narcotics, weapons and cigarettes along the ancient trans-Saharan routes.
The arming of proxies to maintain security in the north, combined with the revenues and access to weapons generated by the black market trade, has sparked occasional Tuareg rebellions against the Malian state. One recent example was the revolt beginning in 2012 that led to a coup in Bamako and the current conflict in northern Mali. The involvement of al Qaeda's regional franchise, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other jihadist organizations in this conflict is still further exploitation of the age-old dynamics created by Mali's defining geography.
Read more: In Mali, the Geographic Roots of Conflict | Stratfor
Re: North Africa, the Magreb
Reply #10 on:
March 21, 2013, 10:29:21 AM »
A knowledgable friend comments:
"Interesting article. GSPC has a long an interesting history growing out of the Algerian liberation movement and then moving to ally itself with and enfolding Groupe Islamic Armee (GIA), this alliance has the creation AQIM. AQIM has since splinter into a number of smaller loosely affiliated groups that simple coalesce around the AQ banner."
Stratfor: update from Mali
Reply #11 on:
March 26, 2013, 07:51:47 AM »
Several obstacles remain as the French military's self-imposed deadline for withdrawing from Mali nears. Jihadists continue to attack Malian and French military positions, albeit with less frequency than in previous weeks. But even after the withdrawal, France will maintain a military presence in Mali, notably in logistics, air, intelligence and training support. Most important, the French military will change its strategy and focus more on stability operations and less on ongoing clearing operations. The Malian government, meanwhile, will have to achieve legitimacy if it wants support from northern Malians.
The heaviest French offensive combat operations at present are taking place in the northern Tigharghar Mountains bordering Algeria, where two French task forces have been hunting down the remaining militants. French and Chadian troops have purportedly killed jihadist leaders Abu Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar. After clearing the Amettetai valley, northeast of Aguelhok, French and Chadian forces have now moved south into the Terz Valley. Chadian special operations forces have taken up blocking positions to prevent militants from escaping the valley as French troops clear through the area.
Another French task force, composed of elements of the light armored 1st Marine Infantry Regiment, has been conducting long-range reconnaissance in the eastern part of the Tigharghar Mountains. This task force has moved toward the city of Tinzaouatene, located on the Algerian border, to rid the area of residual jihadist elements. During this push, a French soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device, bringing the total number of French deaths to five. Despite the difficulties of fighting militants in rugged terrain, the robust French offensives have left the insurgents unable to mount an effective resistance.
Elsewhere, the French military has been deployed east of Gao to clear the city of jihadists. The city in central Mali has been attacked several times since the intervention began, including attacks on March 23 and March 24. Gao is relatively important; it will host the EU Training Mission responsible for retraining the Malian military. How effectively France rids the area of jihadists will help determine how effectively African forces can guarantee security after the withdrawal.
East of Gao, under the aegis of Operation Doro, French and Malian troops have secured the city of Menaka and the market of Djebok, where militants frequently purchase supplies. Over the past two weeks, French troops have killed some 50 militants and have confiscated heavy equipment, including pickups, 122 mm rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and bomb-making equipment. The French have also stepped up their efforts to clear areas of improvised explosive devices, especially in the northern mountains (where a French solider was recently killed) and in areas along the Niger River that were not considered dangerous at the outset of the intervention.
Despite all these operations, jihadists continue to pose a threat to French and Malian forces, as evidenced by a March 20 attack in Timbuktu during which some 50 militants moved against a French-held airport outside the city. During the firefight, a vehicle-born improvised explosive device blew up at a Malian military checkpoint, killing one soldier. The method of attack resembles those used by a group called the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, which has conducted similar attacks in Gao. The airport attack shows that the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa is moving its area of operation due to French and Malian military pressure.
A Matter of Legitimacy
As French forces clear as much ground and degrade as much of the militants' fighting capability as they can, African military forces are preparing to assume the main security responsibilities on the ground. Many French troops will remain when the military assumes more of a support and training role. Intelligence and special operations assets also will remain after most security responsibilities in northern Mali shift to the now 6,300-strong African force.
More contingents, such as the company of Guinean troops that recently arrived, have been deployed at Gao, and other European military trainers are arriving to train and assist African forces and French forces. The United Nations is soon expected to take on a larger role in Mali; the countries involved in the intervention are trying to secure a U.N. mandate, which would ensure financing to underwrite the mission. Since African forces are drawn from several countries, issues concerning funding, as well as diverging interests and domestic situations, undermine their efforts.
Beyond the transition of responsibility in military and security operations, a major issue in Mali will be reconstructing the military and finding a way to secure the north by cooperating with the local population. The first step in this process is to restore the legitimacy of the government. Once legitimized, the government will need to find common ground with the north. Only after an accommodation with the north is reached can security be transferred completely, though this is a process that could take years and could be threatened by a risk of insurgency.
The current government, which came to power through a coup in 2012, is expected to be replaced by a democratically elected government by July. France has pressed Malian officials to organize elections in order to stabilize the country and normalize relations with other countries. The election and subsequent negotiations will greatly impact the role northern Tuaregs will play in the country's politics. In preparation for these elections, two Tuareg groups that oppose jihadists, the Azawad Islamic Movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, have announced their intent to form a united Tuareg front, which will then work to normalize relations among different parts of Mali.
Read more: Mali: An Update on the Intervention | Stratfor
EU Training Mission
Reply #12 on:
April 03, 2013, 10:46:03 AM »
The EU training mission to Mali, which departed April 2, will try to further professionalize Malian forces as they bear greater responsibility for security after a staged drawdown of French troops. Meanwhile, the Malian military has moved some of its most elite soldiers from the capital to more active combat zones, showing that Bamako is committed to playing a role in the security transition. The combination of Malian, other African and Western troops will support a military transition in Mali that shifts the burden of security onto local and regional forces.
Several hundred soldiers from EU member states, including Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, have begun their mission to train the Malian military and will stay in the country for roughly 15 months. Notably, Malian forces have received external military training before. However, previous training lasted only a few weeks before their advisers returned home. Embedding advisers for a full 15 months is meant to instill a level of coordination and integration that cannot be achieved quickly.
The European training mission is but one component of the international stabilization efforts in Mali. Some 4,000 French troops remain in the country, though that number may be halved as part of the withdrawal and transfer of security responsibility. The West African security contingent, known as the African-led International Support Mission for Mali, or AFISMA, boasts roughly 6,000 troops. The United Nations may send even more soldiers to supplement this contingent and more money to finance it.
Several Malian military units already have been trained indirectly by working closely with French forces. In the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, the French military has transitioned to a rapid reaction force; Malian soldiers serve as the region's main protection force and control security checkpoints. Malian forces have withstood the many attacks conducted in these cities, suffering few casualties and responding with thorough clearing operations.
More directly, the French military has also assisted Malian security forces by helping to set up defenses and by guiding ongoing operations. The EU training mission will attempt to professionalize the Malian military further, but for now, Malian soldiers will remain dependent on more efficient African militaries already participating in AFISMA. Military planners likely expect that partnering the Malian military -- empowered through Western training, equipment and funding -- with Western and other African militaries is the best way to achieve lasting security in the country.
As the security transition begins, Mali has started to deploy some of its most effective soldiers to areas with ongoing combat operations, like Kidal. The 33rd Parachute Regiment, known as the Red Berets, had been sidelined in the conflict since the March 2012 coup against former President Amadou Toumani Toure. These soldiers initially resisted the leadership of the new junta. Confined to their base in Bamako, they were not allowed to participate in combat operations.
But now they are conducting offensive operations -- a testament to the government's willingness to accommodate the impending French withdrawal. Using the military's best troops for offensive operations, rather than for internal disputes in the capital, means Bamako is ready to play a role in establishing security in the country.
Read more: Mali: The EU Training Mission Begins | Stratfor
Tunisia fights to define Arab Spring
Reply #13 on:
June 26, 2013, 08:10:44 AM »
A Defining Fight for the Arab Spring's Legacy
In Tunisia, Islamist groups face off over whether the ballot box or bullets will prevail.
By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
To all the worrying news out of the Muslim world—Egypt's protests, Libya's unruly militias, Syria's civil war—add the rise of Islamic extremists in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia.
The good news? Their chief adversaries are no longer the secular dictators of old, but other Islamists who aim to govern through free elections. Just as Tunisia's antigovernment protests in late 2010 sparked the region's upheavals, watch for the outcome of this intramural clash to reverberate throughout the Middle East.
Rachid al-Ghannouchi didn't anticipate this fight. In early 2011, the founder of the Nahda (Renaissance) Party—and to many the leading thinker of political Islam today—returned from exile in London to help steer Tunisia away from secular authoritarian rule. Nahda, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, won a plurality in elections later that year and formed a coalition government with two rival secular parties. Mr. Ghannouchi wanted to show that Islamists and secularists could overcome decades of enmity.
Distrust between them lingers, but the governing "troika" drafted a constitution hailed by Human Rights Watch, among others, for its separation of church and state and checks on power. Protections for free speech and conscience will be tested against old dictatorial habits, but other post-Arab Spring states such as Egypt or Libya would be lucky to be in Tunisia's shoes. The goal, as Mr. Ghannouchi told me on election day in the capital city of Tunis two years ago, is "a moderate Islam . . . which is democratic."
That ambition is not yet realized, and the gravest threat to it comes from the would-be Bolsheviks within Islam. As Nahda made concessions to the secular establishment, a vocal Salafist movement took hold. Tunisia's Salafists, who practice a purist strain of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia, consider democratic government an apostasy. Nahda's decision to keep any mention of Islamic Shariah law out of the constitution infuriated the Salafists. Under their doctrine of hakimiya, the rule of Allah trumps the rule of men. Some of these Salafist groups are linked to al Qaeda.
Nahda and Mr. Ghannouchi ignored—willfully, say their critics—obvious warning signs of this emerging threat. The Salafists turned on anyone or anything deemed un-Islamic. They've besieged a television station which had broadcast the animated feature film, "Persepolis," that includes a depiction of Allah. They've overran liquor stores, an art gallery, theaters and concert halls. Arms flowed from neighboring post-Gadhafi Libya into secret stockpiles of extremist cells in Tunis. Nahda resisted calls to crack down on them.
Early last year, Mr. Ghannouchi met with leaders of Ansar al-Shariah, an offshoot of the terrorist group that later attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. A video of the meeting showed Mr. Ghannouchi pleading with his audience for "more time" to displace the secularists "controlling the media, economy and administration." Some secular Tunisians smelled a conspiracy.
Salafist brazenness and violence started to imperil Tunisia's experiment with free politics. Three days after the Benghazi attack, Ansar al-Shariah ransacked the U.S. Embassy and school in Tunis. The black flag of al Qaeda flew over the compound. In February, a leading secular politician and fervent critic of Islamists, Chokri Belaid, was gunned down outside his home in the capital. Thousands protested, blaming Nahda's limp response to Salafist provocations for his death.
For the past few weeks, the Nahda-led government has moved with force on radical Islam. Tunisia's military was dispatched to the Algerian border to fight a terrorist group holed up there. They've taken casualties. Police clashed with supporters of Ansar al-Shariah in several cities last month after the Nahda-led government prohibited the militant group from holding its annual meeting. This decision heralded the government's new toughness.
Mr. Ghannouchi issued a statement in May that "Salafist jihadists pose a threat to Tunisia" and vowed to defeat them. He calls them "terrorists," a word not lightly used by an Islamist. After all, in the 1980s, Tunisia's previous rulers had labeled Mr. Ghannouchi an Iranian-trained "terrorist," imprisoned him and tortured his friends. Now Nahda has turned the military and police on another generation of Islamists.
On a recent visit to New York, Mr. Ghannouchi, who is 72, looks ill at ease and sounds ambivalent when discussing the harder line. He tells me the Salafists can't be handled "only through security" means. An economic revival in Tunisia, he says, will best blunt their appeal. He adds that "we can contain them by dialogue." Others close to Nahda insist that the military's involvement and losses in the fight put the party past the point of no return. It's too early to call it.
The jihadists, for their part, have declared war on Nahda and Mr. Ghannouchi. "To those tyrants hiding under the cover of Islam, you should know that you are making blunders which will bring the battle closer," wrote the Ansar leader Seifallah Ben Hassine, who goes by the nom de guerre "al Tunisi," in an online statement in May aimed at Mr. Ghannouchi. Let that sink in: An Islamist radical is talking about an Islamist cult hero.
This twist in Tunisia is testament to the possibility of evolution in Arab politics. Too many people these days see the turmoil of the past two years and write the Middle East off as hopelessly unreformable. But the question is not if the Arab world changes, but how.
Stratfor: Elections in Mali
Reply #14 on:
July 29, 2013, 02:49:11 PM »
Mali may be on the road to normalized politics as early results from its July 28 presidential election have begun to come in. Mali has been under the control of an interim government since the coup in March 2012 and a foreign intervention to deal with militant jihadist groups in the country's northern region.
Despite a lingering jihadist presence and threats by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa to attack polling stations in the north, the election took place without security incidents. While no official results are available yet, early reports note that Malian politicians who were active in government prior to the coup are leading the polls, a sign of further normalization of Malian internal politics after the coup and foreign intervention.
No notable attacks have taken place in Mali since April, when French operations aiming to eliminate remaining jihadist elements in the Kidal Mountains, east of Gao and around Bourem were being conducted. Many Islamist elements have left Mali to operate in neighboring countries, indicated by attacks in Niger and the presence of some of these militants in Algeria and Libya. The diminished capabilities of jihadist militant groups in Mali may leave them too vulnerable to attempt further attacks or cause them to lie low as they try to regroup.
The voter turnout in the northern cities such as Kidal, where jihadists had threatened to attack, was much lower than in southern Mali. This has always been the case, however, because much of the northern Tuareg population does not recognize the government in Bamako, or its elections, as legitimate. The generally high turnout and peaceful electoral process in the more densely populated regions of the country will help the election to be seen as free and fair to international observers, a key concern of countries such as the United States. Washington has withheld some aid to the country, even during France's intervention, due to concerns that the March 2012 coup violated democratic principles. Bamako hopes that once election results are announced and a new democratically elected government is formed, U.S. civilian and military aid to the country will resume.
The candidate who is said to be leading the race so far is Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Keita was prime minister from 1994-2000 and speaker of the parliament from 2002-2007, so he very much represents the political tradition Mali has known for decades. Some are claiming he could win the presidential election in this first round, but if he does not, there will be a runoff Aug. 11.
The election of Keita, or other Malian politicians with similar experiences, mostly indicates a normalization of Malian politics. As the military leaders relinquish their power and career politicians return to run the country, which has had a relatively stable democratic tradition throughout its post-colonial history, the scope of Malian politics will return to the same pre-coup issues.
The most important of these issues will be the establishment of a capable security apparatus -- something Malian leaders have failed to do in the past, but current international engagements in the country may make it possible -- and the reconciliation process between the government in Bamako and the Tuareg and Arab populations of northern Mali. A new government will not likely settle the conflict with the Tuaregs quickly, although increased international support to train and equip Mali's military could increase Bamako's ability to contain Tuareg violence in the future, and thus mitigate the effects of the persistent friction between Mali's two distinct regions and populations. This issue will not be settled through violence.
The divide between Mali's northern and southern populations has been put into a new regional context. Rising instability and a booming illicit arms trade have transformed localized instability into regional centers for militant Islamist activity. The election results, however reassuring to the international community, will do little to settle the frustrations of Mali's northern population, which has long lived beyond the administrative and economic reach of Bamako. Mali's fundamental challenge remains, even after relatively successful elections. The integration of northern communities is a costly, long-term endeavor that Bamako may not have the resources to address, though the presence of international peacekeeping troops will likely mitigate tensions. The continued challenges to Bamako's authority in northern regions, undermined by both ethnic tensions and geography, will mean regional militants will continue to be able to move and operate within the vast desert territory, keeping a low profile until presented with the opportunity to strike.
Read more: A Presidential Election in Mali | Stratfor
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