North Africa Theater
At a ceremony in Bamako July 1, UN troops formally took over the "peacekeeping" mission in Mali, with authority transferred from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). But most of the soldiers actually remained the same, with AFISMA troops merely donning the blue beret of UN peacekeeping forces. In April, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong MINUSMA to take over from the African-led force, with authorization "to use all necessary means" to carry out humanitarian and security-related missions and protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artifacts. The new mission begins as French forces continue their phased withdrawal. But France, Mali's former colonial master, is to keep up to 1,000 troops in the country. (Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, July 1)
At least three soldiers were killed as Libyan Special Forces clashed with armed men in Benghazi June 15—a week after fighting killed more than 30 in the eastern port city. The Special Forces' Facebook page said an "outlaw" band attacked their headquarters. The attackers were apparently hundreds strong, in civilian clothes but some wearing veils over their faces. Two days earlier, a bomb exploded outside the building of Libya al-Hurra TV in the city, causing some damage but no casualties. Suspicion in the attacks has fallen on members of the Libyan Shields, a militia that serves as an auxiliary to the "official" armed forces. Spokesman for the army chief of staff Ali al-Sheikhi described the Libyas Shields as "a reserve force under the Libyan army," speaking to Libya's Lana news agency.
The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May 31 rejected a challenge by the Libyan government to the court's jurisdiction over Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya's deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi. The ICC ordered the Libyan government to turn over Saif al-Islam, who is currently being held in Zintan, Libya, where he is facing war crimes charges in a Libyan court. The ICC's decision dismisses a challenge filed by the Libyan government last year claiming the ICC did not have jurisdiction over the case. The court's decision found that the Libyan judicial system was not prepared to handle Saif al-Islam's trial, and thus jurisdiction falls to the ICC. The Libyan government may appeal the ICC ruling.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: "The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity." Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.
Talks will resume soon between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), according to the foreign ministry of Burkina Faso, which has been brokering the dialogue. Earlier this month, a Malian military spokesperson said the country was in the final stages of preparation for an assault on Kidal, the northern town that is held by the MNLA. The last negotiations were back in December before the French-led military offensive to remove the fundamentalist militias who had battled with the MNLA for control of Mali's north. The MNLA supports plans for national elections for an interim president on June 28, but says it will not allow army troops into Kidal for the vote. Said MNLA envoy Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh: "We suggest that security during the vote be guaranteed by UN troops... because no Azawad citizen can elect the future president of Mali under the protection of Mali's terrorist army." (AFP, May 24; Al Jazeera, May 20)
France has vowed to punish those responsible for the April 23 car bomb blast at its embassy in Tripoli that destroyed half the building and wounded six—two French guards, and four resident of nearby buildings that were damaged, including an 18-year-old woman who suffered spinal damage. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who immediately flew to Tripoli, vowed: "The terrorists who wanted to attack France and Libya and undermine the friendship between them will pay." Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited the scene of the devastation with Fabius. There was no claim of responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on al-Qaeda's North African arm, AQIM, which has repeatedly threatened retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. On April 25, two suspects arrested following a lightning investigation led by a French judge and a team of foresnics experts dispatched by Paris. (Libya Herald, Tripoli Post, April 25; Al Jazeera, NYT, April 23)
Some 1,400 US soldiers, sailors and Marines who arrived in Morocco this week for the "African Lion 2013" joint maneuvers with the kingdom's armed forces are to be redeployed after Rabat cancelled the exercizes at the last minute. The move was apparenly taken in retaliation for the Obama administration's support for an initiative to broaden the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, MINURSO, to include human rights monitoring. "It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have negative consequences on the stability of the whole region," said Mustapha Khalfi, Rabat's communications minister. (BBC News, AFP, Military Times, April 17)