North Africa Theater
French troops last week launched a new offensive against Islamist rebels in northern Mali—raised questions about whether Paris will in fact reduce the number of its forces in the African country from 3,000 to 1,200 by year's end as planned. Islamist militants have been struggling to regain control of the contested area, known as the Niger Loop, which includes the cities of Gao and Timbuktu. French general staff spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said the new campaign, dubbed "Operation Hydra," was undertaken joinlty with Malian army forces and troops from MINUSMA, the UN force for the country. "It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together," Jaron said. (NYT, IBT, Al Jazeera, Oct. 24)
Parties that make up Mauritania's Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) have announced a boycott of November's legislative and municipal elections after talks with the government collapsed without agreement earlier this month. The ruling Union for the Republic is the only party fielding candidates in every district, with the next highest representation from Islamist group Tewassoul, the only member of the 11-party COD that will field candidates. Tewassoul calls its participation a form of struggle against the "dictatorship" of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup. The opposition is demanding the polls be postponed until April to allow time for a voter census and guarantees of the independence of the electoral commission. A vote was due in 2011 but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the opposition and government. The last legislative election was held in 2006. (AFP, Oct. 29; Reuters, Oct. 4)
About 30 aides to Moammar Qaddafi, including his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, were indicted Oct. 24 by a Libyan court for a list of offenses allegedly committed during the 2011 revolt in the country. The charges levied against them include murder, kidnapping, complicity in incitement to rape, plunder, sabotage, embezzlement of public funds and acts harmful to national unity. Although less than half of the defendants appeared in court for the indictment hearing on Thursday, all defendants must be present at the trial hearing, the date of which has not yet been set. The trial will be one of the most high-profile in the country's history, with defendants including senior officials such as former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Qaddafi's last prime minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi.
Leading al-Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Ruqai AKA Abu Anas al-Libi, wanted for his role in the 1998 African embassy bombings, was reportedly captured Oct. 5 by US forces in Tripoli, Libya. Al-Libi was apparently apprehended by US troops assisted by agents from the FBI and CIA. According to a federal indictment filed during the Clinton administration, al-Libi "conducted visual and photographic surveillance of the United States Embassy in Nairobi" in 1993. His apartment in the UK was raided after the embassy bombings, where authorities found a copy of a manual entitled, "Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants." In September 2012, he was reported to be living freely in Tripoli. (Long War Journal, Oct. 5)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Libya Oct. 4 to suspend the death sentences of Ahmed Ibrahim and Walid Dabnoon, who were convicted of crimes related to the country's uprising in June 2011. HRW contends that Ibrahim, a former official in the government of deposed president Muammar Qaddafi, and Dabnoon, a volunteer for pro-Qaddafi fighting forces during the clash with protesters, were denied the full benefits of due process during their trials, including the ability to consult counsel regularly and confidentially. According to HRW:
A visit by a delegation of cabinet ministers from Mali's central government to Kidal, the northern town held by Tuareg rebels of the MNLA, sparked a mini-intifada Sept. 17. Tuareg youth attempted to block the delegation's plane from landing and then hurled stones at the ministerial convoy as it headed to the town. "Peacekeepers" from the UN Mission for Mali (MINUSMA) used tear-gas to disperse the protesters. Two bombs reportedly exploded in Kidal during the visit, although apparently causing no casualties.
Canada-based Kinross Gold is said to be rethinking plans for expansion of its massive open-pit mine at Tasiast, Mauritania, after a strike shut the facility for 10 days this month. Amid the shut-down, rating experts at the Bank of Montreal downgraded Kinross and removed the expansion of the Tasiast mine from production forecasts for the company. Some 1,500 workers, representing 98% of the labor force at the mine, walked off the job Aug. 8, demanding better health coverage and respect for Mauritania's labor code. The conflict seems to have begun when managers demanded the mine remain in operation during the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr. The strike, called by Mauritania's main trade union confederation, the CGTM, was resolved Aug. 19 under terms that were not made public. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with which the CGTM is affiliated, is demanding "urgent clarification" on the fate of one worker for subcontractor Canary Log, allegedly found dead under "obscure circumstances" near the mine site during the strike.
Libyan oil production this month fell below 400,000 barrels per day—from 1.65 million bpd a year ago—as striking workers shut down export terminals. The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) appealed to the Defense Ministry for military reinforcements after clashes at the Zueitina oil port Aug. 20. PFG chief Edris Abokhamada claimed that armed protesters at the facility "fired on civilians" after being asked to leave—apparently with no injuries. Clashes were also reported at the Brega terminal, and the Es Sider facility remains shut by worker occupations. The terminals are run by a partnership between Libya's National Oil Corporation and majors Occidental Petroleum and Austria's OMV.