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Thread: Ripples from Mali: events plus outside Mali

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Ripples from Mali: events plus outside Mali

    Much of the rhetoric and reporting on Mali has stressed the dangers from the creation of a 'Sahelistan', a safe haven for AQ and allies. As the situation inside Mali develops I thought a second, parallel thread would be necessary.

    No-one in Paris - or any other Western capital - wants parts of Mali to become like Afghanistan in the 1990s - a place where acts of terror further afield could be planned and where people would then ask why something was not done earlier.
    Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21018675

    The fate of French hostages, from the Sahel to Somalia, is unclear. From the BBC link some details:
    Pierre Legrand, 26, Daniel Larribe, 59, Thierry Dole, 29, and Marc Feret, 43, were kidnapped in northern Niger in 2010 by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, were kidnapped in northern Mali in November 2011 by AQIM; Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, 61, was kidnapped in western Mali in November 2012 by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao); and Francis Collomp, 63, was kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamist group Ansaru
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A ripple in southern Algeria

    For a very long time attacks on the Algeria oil and natural gas fields in southern Algeria has been an issue, IIRC with very few attacks, even during the recent civil war (not ended, but quieter).

    So is this the first 'ripple' from Mali? Note the facts are not clear; an attack on a gas field base, with expat staff kidnapped @ Tiguentourine? Three to six foreigners taken (two Japanese) and two guards killed:http://elwatan.com/actualite/attaque...199732_109.php

    Two BP staff killed and 'Libyan' accents on a later report.

    Link to map, zoom out to see:http://mapcarta.com/17299028

    Tiguentourine is 1300 kms south of Algiers and a long way from Bamoko.

    As Andrew Lebovich notes:
    An attack on an oil facility in southern Algeria is, well, a big deal.
    Slightly different report on:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21042659
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 01-16-2013 at 01:20 PM. Reason: Add last link
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    David,

    Have you noticed that Boko Haram has been bit quiet over the past few months? It could be that the jihadis have moved over to Mali, Nigerian security is more effective or a bit of both.

    Whatever happens, if Mali proves too hot to handle, they'll hop over to Niger and yes, Nigeria. Nigeria is the major prize - and it keeps me worried.

    Will it be possible for the French and ECOWAS to "destroy" all the jihadis - I doubt it. They will have a large expanse of poorly governed space to ply their trade.

    Granted, the French could control Bamako, Niamey and the major towns, but what about the rest of this space?

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Armchair response to African questions

    Kingjaja asked:
    Have you noticed that Boko Haram has been bit quiet over the past few months? It could be that the jihadis have moved over to Mali, Nigerian security is more effective or a bit of both.
    No I hadn't, but unless it is an outrage Nigeria rarely gets a mention here, nor do i search for updates. There was a Tweet today that the FT had an article making that suggestion - militants had gone to Mali - but I am unable to identify the report.

    Whatever happens, if Mali proves too hot to handle, they'll hop over to Niger and yes, Nigeria. Nigeria is the major prize - and it keeps me worried.
    I am aware that African borders are to say the least porous, even more so in this region. Defeated, injured and deserting militants may appear, but they may also have "had enough".

    Strategically Nigeria is far more important that Mali or 'Sahelistan'; just Pakistan is far more important than Afghanistan. That does not mean those involved in decision-making stand back beforehand. I do find the AU and other African nations welcome for the French action useful, but double-edged as it enables Africa to let others - France plus - do the "heavy lifting".

    Will it be possible for the French and ECOWAS to "destroy" all the jihadis - I doubt it. They will have a large expanse of poorly governed space to ply their trade.

    Granted, the French could control Bamako, Niamey and the major towns, but what about the rest of this space?
    The jihadis can be destroyed as an effective threat if they stay together and do not hide amongst the people - in the settled parts of Mali, i.e. along the river. Once they leave for the "outback" and go silent that is when pursuing them and killing them will get hard - for any force. Incidentally I do not see ECOWAS going into the "outback". There are IMHO options to degrade the jihadi threat in the "outback", notably over access to fuel and water. Jihadis will not walk around, even if feasible in the environment.

    In the end the French and other have bought or could buy time for Mali to reform, not just training the military.
    davidbfpo

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    David,

    Thanks for your response, but it is the "combat experience" those guys get from Mali that worries me.

    OTOH, there's an interesting article in the Hindu: http://www.thehindu.com/news/interna...cle4305099.ece

    On Thursday, January 10, a public bus operated by the Sonef transport company arrived on the outskirts of Konna, a small town 700 km north of Bamako, the capital of Mali.

    It was market day in Konna, and soldiers at the checkpoint on the Konna-Gao road waved the bus through. At the next checkpoint at the entry to the town, soldiers clambered into the bus for a routine security check when the passengers gunned them down. Heavily armed Islamist rebels poured out of the bus, destroying the checkpoint as more fighters arrived in a convoy of jeeps and pickup trucks and fanned out across the town.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Ripples

    The kidnapping operation in southern Algeria continues to develop; now it appears that a new 'spin off" AQIM group is responsible, they have taken over forty Western hostages and are holding them within a natural gas facility. Yet to read a good summary; partly due to the isolated location and Algeria's ability to disconnect communication links.

    The Arabist blog has a good overview of the French action and the likely regional 'ripples'. It ends with:
    The main takeaway for the Maghreb – it’s important to remember that the Sahara is very big and population centers in the Maghreb are very far removed from what’s taking place in Mali. To be sure, there are shared sympathies, but each of these will manifest differently in the different Maghreb countries.
    Link:http://www.arabist.net/blog/2013/1/1...e-maghreb.html
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    David,

    I don't think any serious analyst should be talking about the Maghreb.

    The big population centers of the Maghreb may be far removed from Mali, but what about the large population centers of Nigeria?

    Unlike Northern Mali, Northern Nigeria is not arid or flat. Unlike Southern Mali, Northern Nigeria has practiced a more austere, rigid form of Islam for a couple of centuries.

    I want you to consider this: there are at least 70 million people in Northern Nigeria, 9 million street kids (Almajiri) and extremely porous borders.

    What will the fall out from Mali be? The French, ECOWAS and drones cannot prevent militants from sneaking in and out of Nigeria/Niger/Mali and AQIM/Boko Haram will be extremely short sighted if they don't seize the opportunity to expand operations in Nigeria.

    There are many factors that would make Islamic militants popular a few are the heavy handedness of security operatives & anger at the corruption of local administrators.

    I can see it happening, this could be worse than Pakistan/Afghanistan. Unlike Af/Pak, the Sahel does not have a combination of India, Russia, China and yes, Iran to prevent the contagion from spreading. The only semi-competent military is the Nigerian Army - and the Nigerian Army isn't half as competent as the Pakistani Army.

    So I guess we've opened Pandora's box.

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    The map of West Africa shows the proximity of Northern Mali to Chad & Northern Nigeria.


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    Quote Originally Posted by KingJaja View Post
    Have you noticed that Boko Haram has been bit quiet over the past few months? It could be that the jihadis have moved over to Mali, Nigerian security is more effective or a bit of both.

    Whatever happens, if Mali proves too hot to handle, they'll hop over to Niger and yes, Nigeria. Nigeria is the major prize - and it keeps me worried.

    Will it be possible for the French and ECOWAS to "destroy" all the jihadis - I doubt it. They will have a large expanse of poorly governed space to ply their trade.

    Granted, the French could control Bamako, Niamey and the major towns, but what about the rest of this space?
    To what extent are these conflicts driven by mobile transnational jihadis hopping from place to place, and to what extent are they driven by less mobile indigenous groups? I'd like to know more, for example, about the relationship between Tuareg nationalist groups and AQIM-affiliated Islamist groups in Mali. My understanding (though it's far from my patch and I'll gladly take correction from those who know more) is that the Tuareg have substantial grievances; could the Tuareg be separated from the Islamist movements if those grievances were addressed?

    Would like to get M.A.'s thoughts, if he's not too busy in the middle of it all!
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Default France Confronts Terror Threat in Africa, Risks Attack at Home

    A short analysis from Raffaello Pantucci, newly based at RUSI (London):
    The French assault on militant jihadists in Mali reflects a recognition in Paris that the long-brewing Islamist trouble in North Africa is something that has started to spiral out of control, and has potential to have a direct impact within France.
    Link:http://www.rusi.org/analysis/comment.../#.UPfVmaF-xEB
    davidbfpo

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    Default The old ghosts of the "dirty war" return

    A short analysis of current events in Algeria via the BBC:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21078430

    First a reminder about Algeria:
    Historically, it is the cradle of armed Islamist struggle in North Africa.

    (Closing with) It is as if the old ghosts of the "dirty war" came back from the sands of Mali to haunt Algiers, bringing home the spectre of armed groups which it had taken the Algerian army a decade of great efforts to expel.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member M-A Lagrange's Avatar
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    Hello,

    I'll try to answer Dayuhan question on Tuareg and Islamist. Note, please, that I am no expert on Saharian Afria but on Sub-Saharian Africa (Central Africa to be exact).

    As far as I know, Tuaregs do have legitime grieverances and the early hours of the rebellion was mainly aimed to establish a Tuareg State. They kind of took advantage of the chaos generated by the coup.
    Tuareg, apparently, received support from AQMI to reach their first and primary objective but AQMI managed to eat the Tuareg rebels and take control of that rebelion.
    This appeared very clearly when some Islamist decieded to destroy some of the holliest Muslim monuments of Mali and all Islam in West Africa. The Charia that Islamist apply in North Mali is not the cultural interpretation most of the Muslims living in Mali or in Sahel live by. (Or even the Muslims from Sahel as in Chad or even in Sudan)

    Now the operation led by France and Chad troops in Mali officially aims to destroy AQMI capacities in North Mali. Concerning the Tuareg legitimate demands, I really hope the actual trend of the events will not make them disappear and that Mali government will be able to make the part between Tuareg rebels and AQMI.

    The situation is complex because the coup initiated in Bamako allowed Tuareg to establish a Tuareg State and because of Bamako domestic disorder and incapacity to address Tuareg problematic, AQMI has been able to develop in North Mali.
    I find the analysis that we are now in Lybia civil war act2 a little too easy. It is clear that weapons are coming from Lybia but it is also, the underground root causes, also in a purely Malian domestic problematic that will need to be addressed.
    In addition that crisis is a strong challenge for ARICOM that deployed a lot of efforts to train many of the Sahelian states military forces (especially for anti-terrorist operation). AFRICOM will certainly have to re-evaluate its training/follow up procedures in Sahara; especially with failed armed forces of failed states.
    That said, Malian army was a lost cause long before the Tuareg deceided to set free from Bamako.

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    Default History repeating itself?

    Each time we have a crisis there is a surge of comment as everyone seeks to gain knowledge and insight. New experts appear, hitherto unknown experts get publicity and credit after years of study.

    That caveat aside I was amazed to read this FP article, which opens with:
    In 1893, in West Africa's upper Niger River basin -- what is now central Mali -- the French army achieved a victory that had eluded it for almost 50 years: the destruction of the jihadist Tukulor Empire, one of the last great challenges to France's rule in the region. The Tukulor Empire's first important conquest had come decades earlier, in the early 1850s, when its fanatical founder, El Hajj Umar Tall, led Koranic students and hardened soldiers to topple the Bambara kingdoms along the banks of the Niger. Umar imposed a strict brand of Islamic law, reportedly enslaving or killing tens of thousands of non-believers over a half century.....Now, the jihadists are back and so are the French -- the two sides slugging it out over the same real estate they fought over 120 years ago.
    Link:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...ntry?page=full

    The author Peter Chilson has a new e-book ' We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from the Lost Country of Mali'.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    The Eradicateurs
    Why Algeria doesn't talk to terrorists -- even if that means killing hostages.
    BY GEOFF D. PORTER | JANUARY 18, 2013


    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...rists_hostages

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    Quote Originally Posted by M-A Lagrange View Post
    Hello,

    I'll try to answer Dayuhan question on Tuareg and Islamist. Note, please, that I am no expert on Saharian Afria but on Sub-Saharian Africa (Central Africa to be exact).

    As far as I know, Tuaregs do have legitime grieverances and the early hours of the rebellion was mainly aimed to establish a Tuareg State. They kind of took advantage of the chaos generated by the coup.
    Tuareg, apparently, received support from AQMI to reach their first and primary objective but AQMI managed to eat the Tuareg rebels and take control of that rebelion.
    This appeared very clearly when some Islamist decieded to destroy some of the holliest Muslim monuments of Mali and all Islam in West Africa. The Charia that Islamist apply in North Mali is not the cultural interpretation most of the Muslims living in Mali or in Sahel live by. (Or even the Muslims from Sahel as in Chad or even in Sudan)

    Now the operation led by France and Chad troops in Mali officially aims to destroy AQMI capacities in North Mali. Concerning the Tuareg legitimate demands, I really hope the actual trend of the events will not make them disappear and that Mali government will be able to make the part between Tuareg rebels and AQMI.

    The situation is complex because the coup initiated in Bamako allowed Tuareg to establish a Tuareg State and because of Bamako domestic disorder and incapacity to address Tuareg problematic, AQMI has been able to develop in North Mali.
    I find the analysis that we are now in Lybia civil war act2 a little too easy. It is clear that weapons are coming from Lybia but it is also, the underground root causes, also in a purely Malian domestic problematic that will need to be addressed.
    In addition that crisis is a strong challenge for ARICOM that deployed a lot of efforts to train many of the Sahelian states military forces (especially for anti-terrorist operation). AFRICOM will certainly have to re-evaluate its training/follow up procedures in Sahara; especially with failed armed forces of failed states.
    That said, Malian army was a lost cause long before the Tuareg deceided to set free from Bamako.
    Thank you. I understand that the area is not your specialty, but you know more about it than most of us.

    Three questions, possibly dumb ones but they seem relevant:

    Might it be possible to divide the Tuareg nationalists and the Islamists and turn the former against the latter if the Tuareg's grievances were recognized and addressed?

    To what extent would such a strategy be acceptable to whatever passes for a national government?

    How would ECOWAS see such a proposal? Is there traditional animosity between the Tuareg and the primarily southern groups that govern the ECOWAS nations? I'm wondering if the ECOWAS governments might resist accommodation to the Tuareg on the grounds that it might encourage Tuareg or similar out-of-power ethnic groups in their own countries to seek similar accommodation?

    Apologies for my ignorance, just trying to sort matters out to some extent!
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/...542_story.html

    Algerian stance spoils U.S. strategy for region

    The hostage crisis in Algeria has upended the Obama administration’s strategy for coordinating an international military campaign against al-Qaeda fighters in North Africa, leaving U.S., European and African leaders even more at odds over how to tackle the problem.
    One person's opinion

    The region was destabilized by a flood of weaponry and armed Tuareg nomads who had fought for Gaddafi but escaped across Libya’s borders. Many of those mercenaries have since teamed with AQIM to take control of the northern half of Mali.

    “This has just been an utter disaster. It was eminently foreseeable,” the senior U.S. diplomat said of the ripple effects from Libya. “It was the infusion of that additional manpower and weapons . . . that enabled this to happen.”

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    Council Member M-A Lagrange's Avatar
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    Hey Dahuyan,

    The questions you ask have their importance because it implies that Malian State is able to make a difference between Tuareg’s legitimate grievances and AQMI efforts to impose a terrorist state in Sahara.
    The question is: will Malian State blame (and punish) the Tuareg for having allowed AQMI to take control over North Mali.

    About racism against Tuareg: it is clear that Tuaregs are perceived, as many nomadic people, as “bandits and un-educated” by many of the southerners in Mali and in the countries southern from Mali. The Tuareg grievances are the result of both a self-exclusion because of their nomadic way of life and exclusion from sedentary populations. A very classical "pre-insurgency" pattern which fuels both hatery and fear on all sides.

    In addition you add a complex and ramping but existing tension between Christians and Muslims which has been exacerbated in the last decade.
    I spent some time at the border between North Mali and Burkina more than 15 years ago; there was no problem between Christians and Muslims. Last year when the coup took place, first reaction in West Africa capitals were extremely harsh against Tuaregs who were already assimilated to AQ terrorists I the popular imagination. That said, Tuaregs are Muslims but a minority are Islamist.

    For a better understanding of the challenges of the approach you propose, I encourage you to read the following article (In French but Google translate can do miracles)

    "Le risque est grand de voir Bamako mener de larges représailles contre les Touareg" http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/articl...7055_3212.html

    The risks of large scale reprisals against the Tuaregs by Bamako are high
    From news paper Le Monde.

    This article explains quite clearly the difference between the Tuaregs from MNLA and the Islamist.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A 'flood' from Libya or did the Mali's army destabilise?

    Bill,

    You cite a WaPo article:
    The region was destabilized by a flood of weaponry and armed Tuareg nomads who had fought for Gaddafi but escaped across Libya’s borders. Many of those mercenaries have since teamed with AQIM to take control of the northern half of Mali.
    As I have posted elsewhere a recent article points out that Tuareg elements of Mali's army, trained by the USA, deserted to the "other side". One wonders what is the truth?

    Post 230 on the parallel Mali thread (cited in part)

    A strange NYT article on the US role before the coup in Mali in mid-2012, one wonders why this had been in the public domain and challenges the value of the US DoD programme across West Africa:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/wo...nted=all&_r=2&

    According to one senior officer, the Tuareg commanders of three of the four Malian units fighting in the north at the time defected to the insurrection “at the crucial moment,” taking fighters, weapons and scarce equipment with them. He said they were joined by about 1,600 other defectors from within the Malian Army, crippling the government’s hope of resisting the onslaught.
    I have a suspicion that much of the writing before the French action, especially in the USA, followed a legend that is was this 'flood' from Libya that split Mali. A convenient, acceptable legend when in fact Mali was a weak state and even weaker when part of the army being Tuareg deserted.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 01-19-2013 at 12:04 PM. Reason: Insert cross ref and link
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    Default Beyond Al Qaeda

    Interesting piece by Howard French:

    For sheer sexiness, few news monikers can compete with the al Qaeda label.

    This, in a word, is how one of the world's most remote and traditionally obscure regions, Africa's arid and largely empty Sahel, has suddenly come to be treated as a zone of great strategic importance in the wake of the recent offensive by a hodgepodge of armed groups, including one called al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that has threatened the survival of the Malian state and sent violent ripples throughout the neighboring area.
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...rench?page=0,0

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    Default It was not quiet before the gas facility siege

    Under the microscope a hitherto unknown analyst & blogger has provided a snapshot of Jihadist activity in the border region of Illizi Province, Algeria in 2011 and 2012 will follow shortly:http://www.makingsenseofjihad.com/20...n-algeria.html
    davidbfpo

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