Intelligence Analysis: Jihadist militant threats in North Africa and the Sahel
By now the name Mokhtar Belmokhtar is familiar to anyone watching security-related events unfold in Saharan Africa. Since a January 16 raid executed by his “Masked Brigade” in Algeria, which led to the deaths of dozens of hostages, the one-eyed smuggler extraordinaire’s picture has been broadcast across TV and computer screens worldwide. As Western policymakers continue to adjust their strategy in the war on terror, it is important to understand Belmokhtar’s accomplishment in its true context: a victory of a thriving jihadist operational network.
As it turns out, the Masked Brigade’s attack was not, as reports originally indicated, a reprisal for French intervention in northern Mali. In fact, Western security officials recently stated that the attack was planned before January 11, when France intervened. This instead was simply intended to be a standard kidnap-and-ransom mission – a fundraiser and terrorist attack rolled into one.
However, northern Mali does play a role in the attack’s execution. The region has become a sanctuary for militants from Nigeria to Somalia who need free range to learn from experienced veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Belmokhtar’s men trained for and planned their attack in northern Mali. They raised funds by ransoming kidnap victims and smuggling drugs, as well as Belmokhtar’s trademark product, Marlboro cigarettes. They also smuggled fighters and weapons, many of which came from the caches of Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Ghaddafi.
Strategic Analysis: Security threats posed by hardcore revolutionary militias in Libya
On November 14, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) inaugurated Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet, ending this phase of Libya’s political turmoil and solidifying the first post-revolutionary government. However, the process has not been without obstacles. Following the October 31 congressional vote to approve the appointments, armed protesters from the obsessively anti-Gaddafi city of Misrata and other revolutionary groups forced their way into the GNC headquarters in Tripoli, clashing with security personnel and even parliamentarians in a chaotic attempt to protest the inclusion of ex-regime figures.
These raids targeting the nascent Libyan government have become frequent occurrences of late, as the GNC attempts to address each of the nation’s disparate interests. While revolutionary militias formed the core of Gaddafi opposition, they now arguably (and ironically) present the greatest risk to post-Gaddafi stability.
Despite the newly elected leader’s calls for national reconciliation and strengthening of Libya’s democracy, Zidan’s cabinet has proven to be a sticking point for these revolutionary militias unhappy with the potential inclusion of Gathafi-era officials and dissatisfied with their regional representation. The approval and inauguration of the cabinet represent positive developments for Libya’s political stability, at a time where numerous security and economic challenges threaten the country’s foundation. Still, public disapproval for both the nominations and the GNC’s affirmative votes underscores the level of popular discontent and the potential that the country could easily destabilize yet again.
Strategic Analysis: Algeria’s Growing Role in the War on Terror
Why is the United States cementing its support for Algeria, who just so happens to be a staunch ally of the Assad regime while cozying up to Iran? It’s a consideration US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likely had in the back of her mind during her latest talks in Algeria this week, the only North Africa stop on her way to the Balkans.
While Algeria has remained little more than a blip on the international media’s radar, its strategic importance has skyrocketed in the wake of the Arab Spring. After the fall of secular dictators across North Africa, the military-backed Abdelaziz Bouteflika regime has emerged as the last dependable ally in the war on terror in an age where the US needs all the friends it can get.
In 1992, Israel broadly expanded its international relations, taking advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. Notwithstanding, improving ties with the eastern powerhouses of China and India was not a primary focus up until few years ago. Recently, Israeli leaders have made successive high profile visits to China, while engaging in considerable public diplomacy efforts vis-à-vis the Chinese people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even greeted the Chinese people in their native Mandarin during their New Year’s Festival.
The growing cooperation with China is based on bilateral agreements in the fields of technology, green energy, agriculture, and water conservation. Enhancing relations with China in these fields is exactly how Minister of Trade and Labor Shalom Simchon planned for Israel to become one of the world’s top-15 economies. Simchon underlined that a Free Trade Agreement with China is currently on the agenda and is expected to be agreed upon in the foreseeable future.
The recent wave of suicide bombings in Syria, along with Lebanon’s seizure of a weapons-laden cargo ship intended for Syrian rebels, underscores the infiltration of not only Sunni-jihadist ideology into Syria, but also weapons, tactics, and fighters from throughout the Middle East. Those forces, along with radical Syrian Islamists, are likely set to intensify their attacks on both civilian and government targets in an attempt to turn Syria, although unlikely, into the new Iraq.
Unlike Egypt, the Syrian government proved to be far too entrenched to be removed by civilian protests and international pressure alone. This realization and an increasingly brutal government crackdown spawned an inevitable militarization of the conflict, additionally fueled and intensified by Sunni elements throughout the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Libya. Although Sunni militants are no longer able to defeat Syria’s well-armed, motivated, and efficient fighting force in battle, they are leaning towards a strategy where bombings and other asymmetrical attacks on government and civilian targets alike are likely to become the norm for the near future in Syria.
The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?
After almost a century of fighting and with little to show for, the traditionally nomadic and ethnic Tuareg people of North Africa are suddenly on the verge of accomplishing one of their premier goals- securing the territory needed to establish the state of Azawad within today’s northern Mali. The Tuaregs, who number some 1.2 million people in the region, are one of the many distinct ethnic groups who continue to shake North Africa’s geo-political future. In doing so, the Tuaregs have utilized their primary military front, the secular-nationalist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) to accomplish their military objectives. Furthermore, their latest offensive and the subsequent seizure of large swaths of territory has surprised many with the speed and firepower deployed. To that point, their latest gains are primarily due to two major developments – the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the alliance between Islamists and Tuaregs in Mali.
Even before Mali started hitting the headlines this past week, town after town along the northern Mali-Algeria border began to fall to the Tuareg-Islamist insurgents. Moreover, some 200,000 people have been displaced in the last three months alone. To that point, Malian soldiers – mainly ethnic sub-Saharan Africans – who once had the upper hand against the formerly lightly armed Tuareg insurgents were now facing a heavily armed, reinforced, and highly motivated fighting force. Simply put, the Mali army found itself outgunned and undersupplied to fight against a determined enemy in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Since the rebellion began in January, the mounting military defeats pressed the country’s junior officers and soldiers to seek a solution. Therefore, the now disgruntled and demoralized army decided to launch their coup d’état and seized power on March 22 from the Western-backed, now deposed President. Since then, little has gone the junta’s way, as the mutineers, including their leader – US military trained Captain Sanogo – were undoubtedly surprised, not only by the international outcry against them, but also the rebel offensive in the north that has seized territory roughly the size of France in just one week. Continue reading The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?→
The Tuareg Factor
One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations
By Jay R.
Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.
With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.
The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.
Russia’s continued support for Syria is no more than a coldly calculated move meant to bolster its position as global super power.
Russia sent a strong message to the West earlier this month when its aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kutznetsov, docked in the Syrian port of Tartus amidst much bravado. Since that time, the Kremlin has unabatedly remained steadfast in its diplomatic support for the embattled regime by threatening to block any punishing UN Security Council resolutions, drawing the ire of the Sunni Arab world. on January 27, Moscow said a UN draft that condemned Bashar al-Assad and called for his ouster, failed to address Russia’s interests. Like Iran, Russia continues to demonstrate its loyalty to the embattled Alawite-led Assad regime, even as it becomes ever more isolated within the Arab League and the international community. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Syrian Gambit→
Nigeria’s Struggle for Stability
By Jay R.
Sectarian-fueled insurgency, secessionist movements, and widespread discontent amongst the population are just some of the issues facing Nigeria’s first truly democratically elected leader.
After his election, there was great hope for President Goodluck Jonathon amongst the populace. He was elected with 57% of the vote, after receiving significant support from the Nigeria’s youth, a key demographic in a nation whose average age is 19. To them he represented a change from the past and would bring Nigeria to realize its true potential as Africa’s most populous nation with a plethora of oil and mineral resources.
It is clear now however, that charisma alone is not sufficient to rule a country that is so deeply rooted with sectarian divide and government corruption. Jonathan’s obstacles were evident from the beginning when on that Election Day in April 2011, the predominantly Muslim northern states erupted in violent response to Jonathan’s success, leaving hundreds of people dead in the streets. Continue reading Nigeria’s Struggle for Stability→
In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand
By Daniel N.
In the absence of collective nationalism, the transitional government must buy the loyalty of renegade militias with resources it may not have.
Libya is currently undergoing a critical phase of its transition process, as the recognized government (NTC) attempts to assert its power over the country. The focal point of these efforts lies at the reformation of the Libyan national military. In post Gaddafi-Libya, this feat requires garnering the trust of powerful tribal militias, many of whom are reluctant to relinquish their hard-fought positions acquired during the civil war.
Efforts to establish a national military reached a crucial phase in January, when the NTC named Yussef Al-Mangush as chief of staff. The appointment has since been rejected by two powerful coalitions of tribal militias; the Thwars coalition, which includes the Misrata and Zintan factions; and the Cyrenaica Military Council (CMC), composed of militias in eastern Libya. Continue reading In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand→