The past few weeks I’ve been focused on the Horn of Africa, but the real story in terrorism has been occurring in the Sahel. There is way too much to talk about in one blog post. However, I’ll make a few notes here about the current situation in West Africa.
- Sahel Experts I Listen To – As I noted in a previous post about AQIM and the Sahel, these are the folks I would recommend listening to on this topic. Also, I’ve embedded a clip from @tweetsintheME with Wolf Blitzer on CNN down below.
In general, I turn to @tweetsintheME, @themoornextdoor, Dr. Geoff Porter, @tommymiles and @Hannahaniya to keep me informed on the daily fluctuations and insecurity of the Sahel and recommend their blogs and Twitter feeds to all those wanting to stay up to speed.
- Most Frustrating Media Analysis Thus Far – A consistent theme in the media thus far has been that the intervention to oust Qaddafi in Libya is the reason why there’s more terrorism coming from the Sahel. Analysts taking this line imply that the West should not intervene to oust authoritarian dictators because unforeseen events might occur in the future that are bad. I’m also guessing these same ‘experts’ next week will be bashing administrations for not yet intervening in Syria to help topple a dictator and end a humanitarian crisis. These flip-flopping analysts love events like this where they can trace backward to past events as causes for current conflict. However, I don’t remember many analysts saying that the Libya intervention would lead to instability and the rise of terrorism in Mali. Most were focused on the obvious instability that would come amongst Libyan factions after the fall of Qaddafi. In general, I can’t stand analysts that take this course as they can always find a reason not to do something and their ‘Loss Aversion’ leads policymakers to pursue inaction, which also has its second and third order effects as well. Let me think real quick, has there ever been a case where a policy of inaction went awry? Oh yeah, there were those attacks on September 11, 2001. I could go on about this forever, but I won’t. Bottom line: Extremist growth in Mali and the Sahel has been going on steadily back to at least 2008 and results from the confluence of many factors rather than just one factor.
- How about France! – One of the things I’ve been most impressed with is France jumping into the fight executing an intervention in Mali on the same day they attempted a hostage rescue in Somalia. The French took casualties in both operations, but they have stopped the march of militants southwest into interior Mali. Nice to see other countries taking action against terrorists to protect their own interests. I’ll be interested to see how long they can hold out.
- AQIM is the new epicenter of al Qaeda! (Or is it Yemen, Somalia, Syria?) – Media analysis of the situation and Mali and Algeria is absolutely hilarious. I’ve seen several stories discussing how the Sahara is the new top Al Qaeda threat and shows the resilience of the network and the strength of the terror group. Amazingly the same media outlets don’t appear to research any of their own reporting. As has been discussed here, the story of Al Qaeda growth and strength repeats every few months. Four months ago Libya was the center of attention. Six months before that it was Yemen. And three months before that it was Somalia. Today, one hardly hears a peep about Somalia where Shabaab’s alliance with Al Qaeda has crumbled under the pressures of clan disputes. And in Yemen, reporting has died down to merely a trickle. So I am curious to see how long discussion will stay focused on the Sahara.
Today, the center of attention has moved away from France’s Mali intervention, though, and rests specifically on the hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. This is a fascinating turn of events and leads me to several things to explore in the coming days.
- The attack was prepared before the French intervention – I have to believe that Belmokhtar’s attack on the gas facility was prepared a significant amount of time before the French intervention. The interesting fact is that he likely prepared the attack and waited for the appropriate time to launch such that he could gain international attention and use it for his own purposes. While this attack is significant, the timing of his next attack will be more important. As noted in some excellent research back in 2011, its the pace of attacks, not the size of any single attack, that are indicative of a terror affiliate’s strength.
- Is the In Amenas attack as much about internal AQIM power plays than strategically attacking the West? – The focus for the most part has been on how the attack was spectacular and hit Westerners. However, as was discussed here a few weeks back, maybe this attack by Belhmoktar represents his efforts to reclaim the throne as leader of AQIM. See this post from a few weeks back. Did Belhmoktar launch this attack in coordination with AQIM? I don’t know, but if he didn’t coordinate, this attack could be a power play for him to shore up support locally and fighters and resources globally.
- Could Belhmoktar be the inspiring leader for al Qaeda’s next generation? – Last summer, I noted the following in a report “What if there is no al Qaeda?” –
Where are the most talented al-Qaeda veterans going? Today, analysts should seek to identify what path al-Qaeda’s most talented veterans are choosing to pursue. Al-Qaeda’s limited centralized control has likely encouraged some talented terrorists to move on to new groups. Knowing where these veterans go will be essential for anticipating future threats.
In the winter of 2011, I was deliberating as to the effect of al Qaeda losing its key international recruiters inspiring young people.
Who will lead al Qaeda’s next wave of radicalization? Al Qaeda needs a new inspirational messenger to ramp up its global radicalization and recruitment. Only a select few al Qaeda leaders have actually generated significant audience to radicalize many recruits. Three of al Qaeda’s most effective messengers, Bin Laden, Zarqawi and Awlaki, all blended a unique combination of competence and charisma to radicalize and inspire recruits.
So, is Belhmoktar, AKA Mr. Marlboro, the first new inspiring leader of a new generation of Salafi-Jihadi extremism? He’s a bit weak on the ideological aspects, but he’s a veteran fighter with charisma and attacks under his belt. I guess only time will tell.