North Africa Theater
Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.
Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know. Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive. This is incorrect. The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves. The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali.
Under an agreement signed Jan. 30 in the port of Agadir, 1,400 US Marines and 900 Moroccan soldiers will join in April on the North African country's Atlantic coast for a training exercise dubbed "African Lion." The joint forces will land more than 200 vehicles at Agadir and advance with weapons and equipment 300 kilometers before returning to the starting point where they will disassemble the equipment for re-embarkation within 24 hours. The forces will deploy long-range missiles that can reach targets more than 60 kilometers away accurately—a first for an exercise involving Morocco.
More than 3,000 Tunisians, led by the father of assassinated opposition figure Chokri Belaid, marched through the capital Feb. 23 in a protest against the government's "slow" investigation into the slaying. The case has become a focal point for widespread grievances against the ruling Islamist party and the country's economic state. (AP, Feb. 23) Tunisian authorities say they have arrested an unspecified number of suspects in the killing, but Belaid's family says members of the ruling Ennahda party were behind the assassination, and are being protected. (Middle East Online, Feb. 21)
President Obama announced Feb. 22 that about 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to help set up a new base for supposedly unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance in the region. The new drone base is to be located for now in the capital, Niamey. The only permanent US base in Africa is in Djibouti, but Niamey may now constitute a second. (NYT, Feb. 22) Also Feb. 22, Chad announced that 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels were killed in a fierce battle in the mountain region of Adrar des Ifoghas, on Mali's border with Algeria. In other fighting that day, at Tessalit, on the edge of the mountains, two vehicles carrying civilians and members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group exploded, killing three and wounding several others. (VOA, Feb. 22) A second car bomb attack in Khalil, on the Algerian border, left five MNLA fighters dead. (Reuters, France24, Feb. 22)
A Rabat military court on Feb. 17 handed prison sentences, including eight life terms, to a group of 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara in 2010. Four received 30-year terms, while 25th defendant was tried in absentia and given a life sentence. The charges, including "forming criminal gangs, and violence against the security forces leading to deaths and the mutilation of corpses," stemmed from violence surrounding the November 2010 eviciton of a protest encampment at Gdim Izik outside Laayoune, capital of the occupied territory. Amnesty International condemned the military trial as "flawed from the outset," and called for an investigation of claims that incriminating statements had been made under torture. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Feb. 17)