A 56-year old Italian woman was kidnapped in Southern Algeria. Andrew Lebovich provides a good overview of this most recent Sahel kidnapping. Andrew notes that the initial kidnappers may have been cigarette or drug smugglers that then turned the hostage over to AQIM. I noted in an earlier post that the kidnapping supply chain is one of opportunity more than strategy. If you are European and float into the Sahel, then someone will likely try to kidnap you. After that, the kidnap victim floats to the highest bidder, which appears to be the most capitalized organization; AQIM. Whether the kidnappers are initially AQIM or smugglers, I don’t know and am not sure that it matters.
Alex Thurston posted a really excellent analysis on the options for dealing with kidnapping. He describes the pros and cons of five different options and ultimately settles on a hybrid of all of them. Alex’s discussion is really good and I encourage all interested in the kidnapping debate to check it out. Ultimately, I am still of the opinion that Westerners should be advised not to travel to the region under any circumstances and that no ransom should ever be paid.
I respect Alex’s points on development and extending military capacity in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. However, the West has tried economic development and government capacity improvement in the Sahel for fifty years without success. Military capacity strengthening can also turn into militia arming or warlord development. With the U.S. engaged and trying to solve problems in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now North Africa, I don’t see how the U.S. could execute a large-scale coordinated effort in the Sahel. If there is any progress to be made, I think the Europeans must lead as they know the terrain and its their people that are being kidnapped.