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February 23, 2013

Mali was a Breeding Ground for Terrorists before Current Crisis

February 21, 2013 by

Malian troops patrolling the northern town of Diabaly, Mali, on January 22, 2013. Civilians in Mali’s north have suffered extrajudicial killings and other acts of violence both by the Malian army and by armed Islamist rebels, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report. Nic Bothma/AAP

The French liberation of northern Mali from embedded Islamists has finally put Mali on everyone’s radar screen.  In the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, testified about the crisis in the West African nation and what the U.S. and other countries should do.  Mr. Carson noted that the “crisis is one of the most difficult, complex and urgent problems West Africa has faced in decades.” He further noted: “The March 2012 coup and subsequent loss of northern Mali to Islamic extremists demonstrates all too clearly how quickly terrorists prey upon fragile states,” referring to the presence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The U.S. could have subdued the AQIM in 2003 when its fighters fled Algeria to Mali’s northern frontier region, which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Somalia and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. knew that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists; the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative training program was launched in Mali in 2005. Two years later, special operations forces carried out additional training, and U.S. Africa Command considered setting up a base there. An ongoing program would have reduced the presence of the Islamists.

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Canada’s Mali Conundrum

February 15, 2013 by

A French military convoy crossing Timbuktu during their military campaign against Islamic insurgents. Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images via National Public Radio

Roughly a month after France began its aerial bombardment of Islamic extremists in Mali, Canada’s offering to the western response has remained largely unchanged: one C-17 heavy-lift cargo plane, and $13-million in humanitarian aid announced at an International donors’ conference in Addis Ababa.

The government’s reluctance to pledge more resources has come amidst consternation from foreign policy watchers at home. Historically Canada has had a significant presence in Mali as a major donor. It remains one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) focus countries, and is home to significant Canadian mining interests. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2010 there were 15 Canadian mining and exploration companies in Mali with an estimated $230 million in assets.

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Osama bin Laden’s death has done little to Undermine al Qaeda

February 6, 2013 by

Osama bin Laden, the former Al Qaeda leader. Image via Washington Times

“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it…”

— Osama bin Laden, February 1998

Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist leader, issued his “fatwa” only seven months before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998. The United States could have increased our security measures everywhere, yet Washington remained unprepared to avoid the disastrous destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to organize his Arab-Afghan fighters to defend the Saudi kingdom. The royal family instead invited U.S. troops, which bin Laden considered “infidels” occupying Muslim soil, and declared a “jihad” against the United States. He did not want any foreign troops in the “land of the two mosques,” a reference to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. His protest led to house arrest, and he was asked to leave Saudi Arabia in 1991.

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Security Firms seek inroads in Mali

February 1, 2013 by

Tuareg tribesman in Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

The British security firm G4S is set to rake in massive profits thanks to crises in Mali, Libya and Algeria. Recognized as the world’s biggest security firm, the group’s brand plummeted during the London Olympics last year due to its failure to satisfy conditions of a government contract. But with growing unrest in North and West Africa, G4S is expected to make a speedy recovery.

The January 16th hostage crisis at Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas plant, where 38 hostages were killed, ushered in the return of al-Qaeda not as extremists on the run, but as well-prepared militants with the ability to strike deeply into enemy territories and cause serious damage. For G4S and other security firms, this also translates into growing demands. “The British group (..) is seeing a rise in work ranging from electronic surveillance to protecting travelers,” the company’s regional president for Africa told Reuters. “Demand has been very high across Africa,” Andy Baker said. “The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”

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Mali’s Chaos exacerbated by the Arab Spring

January 26, 2013 by

Militants from the Islamist terrorist group Ansar Dine stand guard during a hostage handover in the desert outside Timbuktu, Mali, in April. Associated Press via The Washington Times

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) infiltrated Mali’s northern frontier in 2003, after a 10-year civil war to overthrow the Algerian government. This desert region has become a safe haven for numerous Islamists linked to al Qaeda.

U.S. intelligence sources have known that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists. In 2005, the U.S. launched the “trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative,” a military training program in Mali. In 2007, additional training took place with special operations forces. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had considered a base in northern Mali, but the idea never materialized.

The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led to the destabilization of the Sahel, leaving a number of countries at risk. Our lack of continued military support in Mali left the country unprepared to deal with the fast-growing threat from the well-armed and well-financed Islamist extremists. Northern Mali has now become the “epicenter” for terrorists coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Mali Intervention and Chickens

January 17, 2013 by

A young mujahid in Timbuktu. May Ying Welsh/Al Jazeera

“It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts.”

– Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

The vision that Conrad’s character Marlow describes is of a French frigate firing broadsides into a vast African jungle, in essence, bombarding a continent. That image came to mind this week when French Mirages and helicopter gunships went into action against a motley army of Islamic insurgents in Mali.

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The Mali Intervention: France, Islamic Fundamentalism and Africa

January 15, 2013 by

French President François Hollande announcing his decision to intervense in Mali. Image via Ministère des Affaires étrangères

The French government has decided to take it upon itself to intervene in the conflict plagued state of Mali to stop the advance of the Islamic Jihadi. On Monday, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, explained that France had received UN Security Council approval to intervene. An aerial campaign on Thursday had commenced at the request of Mali’s government against al-Qa’ida linked rebels marching on Bamako.

The fears from France and her allies is that the al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) poses a grave threat in its efforts to create what would amount to a Taliban styled regime.

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Mali is a Victim of Inconsistent U.S. Foreign Policy

December 27, 2012 by

Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Image via Foreign Policy

On December 20, 2012 President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation suspending Mali from benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program–due to coups the country underwent in 2012. At the same time President Obama approved South Sudan’s eligibility under the program—a country in conflict with its neighbor Sudan.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was established by Congress in May 2000 to create jobs in sub-Saharan Africa—to help reduce poverty—and build trade capacity with the United States. To qualify under the AGOA, countries needed to show improvements in democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency, and a commitment to work standards that exclude the use of child labor. The AGOA includes over 6,000 items that can be exported to the U.S. duty free and quantity free. The program currently supports over 300,000 jobs (indirectly benefiting 10 million people) in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Mali: At Risk of Becoming an Islamic State

December 20, 2012 by

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Image via Foreign Policy

On December 11, 2012, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed from office by Mali’s military. This comes on the heels of the March ousting of President Amadou Toure, by a junta led by Captain Amadou Sanogo. Mali’s destabilization is the result of the Arab Spring that led to the conflict in Libya–where regime change was the goal–without an endgame plan. Large caches of weapons were left unprotected, which reached radical Islamists in northern Mali.

On December 11, 2012 the Foreign Policy article, Rice: French plan for Mali intervention is ‘crap’, noted, “The crisis in Mali underscores the rising threat…Islamic militancy in North Africa and the Sahel [is] the clearest evidence of blowback from the U.S.-backed military campaign that toppled Qaddafi”. The article also noted that France wanted swift military action in Mali, “with a rapid deployment of an African stabilization force”.

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Mali’s Chaos opens the door to Western Intervention

December 19, 2012 by

Ansar Dine militia fighters in Northern Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

France is insisting on ‘rapid’ military intervention in Mali. Its unmanned drones have reportedly been scouring the desert of the troubled West African nation - although it claims that the drones are seeking the whereabouts of six French hostages believed to be held by Al-Qaeda. The French are likely to get their wish, especially following the recent political fiasco engineered by the country’s strong man and coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo. The Americans also covet intervention, but one that would serve their growing interests in the Sahel region. African countries are divided and have no clear alternative on how to restore Mali’s territorial integrity – and equally important political sovereignty - disjointed between Tuareg secessionists and Islamic militants in the north and factionalized army in the south.

The current crisis in Mali is the recent manifestation of a recurring episode of terrible suffering and constant struggles. It goes back much earlier than French officials in particular wish to recall. True, there is much bad blood between the various forces that are now fighting for control, but there is also much acrimony between Mali and France, the latter having conquered Mali (then called French Sudan) in 1898. After decades of a bitter struggle, Mali achieved its independence in 1960 under the auspices of a socialist government led by President Modibo Keita. One of his very early orders of business was breaking away with French influence and the Franc zone.

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Malian Musicians Have Been Muzzled

December 6, 2012 by

Malian refugees in Mbera camp. Image via UNHCR Mauritania

On December 1, 2012 Secretary Hillary Clinton honored eight performing artists at the State Department, stating, “Art is an outward expression of our common human dignity…they [artists] refused to accept the world as it is or the limitations that someone or society tried to place on them. They insist on exploring what could be, they challenge our prejudices, and change our perspectives.”

The following night, at the 35th Kennedy Center Honors event, Dustin Hoffman, Natalia Makarova, David Letterman George “Buddy” Guy and Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones) were inducted as this year’s honorees. Our family has attended the prestigious event for the past twenty years. Having survived the Holocaust, and achieved the American Dream, I related to the challenges several of the artists had to overcome to find success. The eight honorees all have made a difference in the world—as performing artists.

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Mali the Epicenter for AQIM Terrorists

November 26, 2012 by

Fighters with Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Some members of ethnic militias previously aligned with the Malian government have joined other Islamic groups. Image via Al Jazeera

On October 12, 2012 Youssoufou Bamba the Côte d’ Ivoire representative to the United Nations stated, “The clock is ticking and every day that passes brings more suffering to the population trapped in the areas controlled by the terrorists”; noting they are carrying out all kinds of criminal activities in northern Mali, “Inaction is no longer an option.”

In meeting with Mali’s Ambassador Al-Maamoun Keita on November 15, 2012, he was confident that UNSC Resolution 2071, passed on October 12, 2012, would finally allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops assist the Malian military to subdue the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliates embedded in northern Mali. The Resolution noted the UN’s “readiness to respond to Mali’s request for an international military force, pending receipt of the Secretary-General’s report and recommendations on the situation,” with approval to take place within forty-five days.

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The Arab Spring Didn’t Buy the West Many Friends

November 20, 2012 by

Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

The Arab Spring brought about regime change. At the same time it emboldened a new generation of Salafi Islamists– spurred on by ultraconservative imams who had been muzzled for years.

The Salafi Islamist movement wants to control the governing process. Tunisia was the first to see regime change, followed by Egypt and Libya. Quick action by Algeria’s leader in reducing food prices, and modifying oppressive government actions saved him from the same fate. Morocco also fared better, with the monarchy allowing new parliamentary elections, addressing human rights issues, and giving up some sovereign rights. An Islamist recently won the election in Morocco, and became the prime minister. Salafi Islamists will continue to gain influence in the North African countries. These rulers have temporarily survived, but there is still underlying discontentment that won’t go away. Drought related issues, rising food prices, and high unemployment continue to be major concerns across the Maghreb.

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Africa Needs a New Approach

November 13, 2012 by

In August 2012, Secretary Hillary Clinton made a ten day visit to nine African countries: Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. The common thread in Secretary Clinton’s remarks were the building blocks of the new “Presidential Policy Directive” (PPD) for sub-Saharan Africa, to strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.

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Foreign Policy Needs More Focus on Security

November 2, 2012 by

On October 29, 2012 the State Department gave a briefing on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s visit to Algeria. The focus of the trip was on “counterterrorism cooperation and Mali.” The concern was dealing with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist organization that originated in Algeria, and is actively training in Mali; now has spread across the vast Sahel. The UN also had not authorized the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send troops to support the Malian military, and subdue these Islamists embedded in northern Mali.

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