North Africa Theater
In a statement issued June 19 at its Stuttgart headquarters, US Africa Command chief Gen. Carter F. Ham said last year's Operation Odyssey Dawn, the NATO mission in Libya, "imparted important lessons [for] the Defense Department's newest combatant command" and said it "welcomes a new African partner to the fold while still dealing with some of the residual challenges left by the former regime." Gen. Ham said that AfriCom "is forming a new military-to-military relationship with the Libyans and is working to strengthen its long-term military-to-military relationship with the Tunisians." Speaking about the Pentagon's future role on the African continent, Ham stated: "It is probably not going to be very often where Africa Command goes to the more kinetic, the more offensive operations in Africa. But nonetheless, we have to be ready to do that if the president requires that of us." (US Africa Command, June 19 via AllAfrica)
Since Azawad broke away from Mali in April, we've been wondering how long the world powers will tolerate the situation. On one hand, the logistical nightmare of a potentially protracted war against a hydra-headed insurgency of mutually hostile Tuareg rebels and jihadi factions in the most remote part of the Sahara; on the other, a vast and resource-rich swath of Africa outside the control of any state. One thing that may have held up intervention was the change of administration in France. Now new president François Hollande appears to remove doubts that he is ready for war. In a Paris meeting with Niger 's President Mahamadou Issoufou, he warned: "There is a threat of terrorist groups setting up in northern Mali. There is outside intervention that is destabilizing Mali and setting up groups whose vocation goes well beyond Mali, in Africa and perhaps beyond." (AFP, June 11) We can imagine that French uranium interests in what is now "Azawad" may color Hollande's thinking on this question.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) said June 9 that four ICC staff members have been detained in Libya since Thursday the 7th. They traveled to Libya on the 6th to meet with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Moammar Qaddafi. Reportedly among the detainees are Melinda Taylor, an Australian lawyer working for the ICC. A representative for the Libyan courts said that Taylor attempted to give documents to Saif al-Islam that were from his former aid, Mohammed Ismail, who has been in hiding since the Libyan conflict began. She was therefore found to pose a threat to Libyan safety.
Reports from Mali's breakaway northern region of Azawad are as murky and contradictory as ever. Last week we were told that the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had cut a deal with the largest jihadi faction in the region, Ansar Dine, for creation of an "Islamic state." Now a May 29 AFP report picked up by Nigeria's This Day and South Africa's IOL News quotes a Tuareg rebel leader as saying the deal has collapsed. But the leader is named as speaking not in the name of the MNLA, but a "National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA)." To wit:
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Casablanca, Morocco's largest city, May 27, in a renewed push for democratic reforms. The march, organized by trade unions, was the largest since a new government took office in January, with leaders accusing Prime Minister Benkirane of failing to deliver promised changes amid continued high unemployment. November elections brought to power a coalition government led by the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist party, but protesters charge he has done little to fulfill his promises of social justice. "There are more than 50,000 people who are demonstrating to call on the government to start a genuine dialogue addressing our country's social ills," opposition Socialist MP Hassan Tariq said. (AlJazeera, May 28; BBC News, May 27)
It is bitterly disappointing, but there is a sense of the inevitable to it. When the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA first claimed to have seized northern Mali and declared the independent state of Azawad last month, they trumpeted their commitment to secularism and dismissed the Islamist factions that had evidently taken power in Timbuktu and elsewhere in the territory as insignificant "groupsicles" that they would shortly crush. Now, just a few weeks later, the MNLA announces that it is merging with the most significant of these factions, Ansar Dine. The marriage of convenience is an obvious one. The MNLA, despite its boasting, was not able to crush the Islamists and is adhering to the old adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." They have betrayed their supposed commitment to secularism in order to achieve their more fundamental aim of an independent Azawad. Ansar Dine, in turn, have sacrificed their loyalty to a unified Mali (which probably never meant much to them anyway) in order to achieve their more fundamental aim of an Islamic state.
We noted in September, after the fall of Moammar Qaddafi, that hundreds of Tuareg were being forced to flee into Algeria by Arab militias in the western Libyan town of Ghadames. This exodus apparently continues. More than 55 Tuareg crossed over into Algerian territory in the last two days for fear of reprisals by armed groups, according to Algeria's El-Khabar newspaper May 24. The Ghadames tribe, which is backed by forces affiliated with the National Transitional Council, is said to carrying out attacks on local Tuareg families and businesses, putting stores and stables to the torch. According to the refugees, many Tuareg were subjected to "illegal" detention at secret locations under inhumane conditions. They added that members of the Ghadames tribes are searching for Tuareg members everywhere, even in hospitals, to abduct, abuse or kill them. A large number have been illegally arrested, including women. (Al-Monitor, May 24)
Former Libyan chief of intelligence Abdullah al-Senussi will face charges of illegally entering the country of Mauritania, an anonymous source told Reuters on May 21. Al-Senussi, who served under Moammar Qaddafi, was arrested in Mauritania in March. A trial in the country will delay other international efforts to prosecute al Senussi. Libya's National Transitional Council, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and France have all requested custody of al-Senussi. The ICC issued arrest warrants for al-Senussi in June on charges of murder and persecution for planning attacks on civilians during the Libya conflict, but he is also suspected of organizing mass rapes. France requested custody because al-Senussi was sentenced to life in prison in France for his role in a 1989 plane bombing over Niger that killed 170 people, including 54 French citizens. Both members of Qadaffi's "inner circle," al-Senussi and Qadaffi's son Saif al-Islam, have now been arrested.