Benghazi Attack: AQIM Terrorists had their roots in Mali
October 12, 2012
On July 5, 2012 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2056, to deal with the instability in northern Mali. Tuareg fighters returning from Libya brought with them a large cache of arms. Affiliating with AQIM and Ansar Dine Islamists they have taken control of the northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. To stop their advance the UN should have supported military action, but instead wanted more studies on the justification, before giving approval for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops to intervene in Mali. Ninety days have since passed, and the situation in Mali has only become more acute.
The AQIM movement was the outgrowth of several dissident groups in Algeria trying to overthrow their government. In 2003 they moved their operations to northern Mali. The AQIM trained recruits and became affiliated with al-Qaeda linked Islamists who infiltrated the region. U.S. intelligence sources knew in 2003 that the region was becoming a breeding ground for terrorists. The U.S. launched “Flintlock 2005” as part of the “Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative” training program, which included Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. A follow-up military training program “Operation Flintlock 2007” in Mali was undertaken by Special Operations Forces, with troops from the neighboring countries. Near the end of that training session, a cargo plane was hit by gunfire from Tuareg rebels, while delivering supplies to Malian troops trapped in a military outpost. AFRICOM had considered setting up a base in northern Mali, but eventually shelved the plan. Mali however did receive some military vehicles and communications equipment to deal with the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists in northern Mali.
The Tuareg rebels and Ansar Dine Islamists constantly challenged the Malian military. President Amadou Toure did not support the military adequately in its fight against these radical Islamists. Without arms and supplies, Captain Amadou Sanogo said “he was sacrificing his troops”. In my meeting with him on September 8, 2012, he related the story of how Malian soldiers had been surrounded for over two months without adequate arms, ammunition, and food. Then on January 22, 2012 almost ninety soldiers were slaughtered by Islamists at the Aguel Hoc Military Camp near Kidal. Not able to hold their positions in the northern towns, the Malian army had to withdraw, with many soldiers being killed along the way. Vehicles and other equipment donated by the Special Ops Forces had to be left behind, falling into the hands of the Islamists. Captain Sonogo frustrated by the loss of his troops, and lack of military support, attempted to meet with President Amadou Toure, who instead went into hiding and fled the country. In the leadership void that followed Sanogo took charge on March 21, 2012.
In my discussion with Captain Sanogo at the Kati Barracks in Bamako, he was quick to note that he handed civilian control back to a Transitional Government as provided for under the constitution. Sanogo stated that the Arab Spring in Libya had helped to destabilize Mali, with the massive amount of arms coming back with Tuareg fighters. These arms fell into the hands of Islamists who took control over a large region of northern Mali, and imposed Sharia law. Many people have been killed, atrocities continue unabated, and over five-hundred thousand Malians have fled the country.In the June 7, 2012 Reuters article, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger stated, “Afghan and Pakistani jihadis were training recruits for Islamist groups in northern Mali, the latest sign it is slipping into terrorist hands”, and noting the need “for a UN Security Council Resolution on the Mali situation to allow the use of force to restore integrity of Mali’s territory”.
In my September 8-12, 2012 meetings with Malian government leaders, they expressed a desperate need for military support by ECOWAS, who had offered 3,300 military troops. The UN however, continued to insist that a “feasible and actionable” military plan be submitted, and the U.S. insisted elections take place first. Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly, Minister of Administration Moussa Sinko, and Defense Minister Yamoussa Camara, told me that the election process was moving forward, but at the same time military action was needed to subdue the Ansar Dine and AQIM Islamists; other insurgents who have infiltrated northern Mali. The government leaders were desperate for arms and supplies for the Malian army. Camara noted that a shipment of military supplies was being held up at the Port of Conakry in Guinea. President Traore had personally written a request several days earlier pleading for the ship’s release, without a response back.
Mali’s Prime Minister Cheik Modibo Diarra, speaking at the UN in September stated, “There is an urgency to act to end the suffering of the people of Mali and to prevent a similar situation that would be even more complicated in the Sahel and the rest of the world”, as noted in the Reuters article on September 27, 2012. In the same article Niger’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Bazoum stated “only an armed intervention supported by friendly powers could eradicate insecurity in the region”. Secretary Clinton stated, “In the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion and restore the rule of law”. President Hollande of France proffered, “How can we organize elections when northern Mali is occupied by terrorist movements that don’t apply democracy”.France has circulated a draft resolution to the UNSC that would give ECOWAS thirty days to provide details for the proposed military intervention. The UN obstacle remains Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who insists “The United Nations was developing a strategy on the Sahel that would look as a whole at issues including security, response to large-scale crises, and the promotion of democratic governance”. The UN should have allowed the ECOWAS military to intervene, when Mali first asked for their support in April 2012. That was long before the Islamists unified their efforts, to take control of a region the size of France.
The September 11, 2012 brutal attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were undertaken by AQIM, affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia Islamists. We were forewarned many times that AQIM was training in northern Mali, and had spread across the Sahel, and beyond. The attacks on the U.S. consulate, in which Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed, “could have been prevented”. They were not properly protected by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; credible intelligence gathering was lacking. We have had a long history of embassy attacks over the past thirty years, and should have been better prepared to operate in such a conflicted environment. Congressional budget cuts beginning in the mid 1990’s, and the State Department’s lack of action to adequately protect our overseas missions, contributed to this failure.
In conversations with several congressional members, I asked if they had ever been to Africa. They said, Africa was too far away from the United States. I retorted, “That for al-Qaeda the U.S. is only a doorstep away”. The Congressional Hearings this week focused on the events surrounding the attacks, and security failures, relating to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. At the same time Congress needed to focus on the genesis of AQIM, and why the U.S. did not support Mali more in their efforts to subdue the terrorists, before they spread across the Sahel and North Africa. Had the U.S. been more proactive we could have changed the outcome in Benghazi. We need to understand that in the Global War on Terror, al-Qaeda and affiliated radical Islamists primarily focus on the United States.