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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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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: U.S. Must Enforce Aid Accountability

January 28, 2013 by

French soldiers at an airbase in Bamako, Mali. Arnaud Roine/EPA

It is critical to stability in the Maghreb and the Sahel region that terrorism in Mali be dealt with, both militarily and politically. The current situation in Mali cannot be separated from the issues in the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Extremists are breaking down the traditional tribal cultural bonds that have held society together in the Sahel region. This breakdown has far-reaching consequences for future generations. If we do not begin to reverse this trend immediately, we will have an exponentially greater problem to deal with in the near future, and much more serious long-term effects. It is critical that we apply equal pressure across the entire region in order to deal with terrorism.

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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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From Rwanda to Mali: France’s Chequered History in Africa

January 22, 2013 by

Will history look kindly on the French intervention in Mali? Arnaud Roine/EPA

Why the French intervention in Mali? Last week, French daily Le Monde asked this question of André Bourgeot, specialist on Sub-Saharan Africa with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Bourgeot gave two main reasons, the first of which was that without intervention, Islamist troops that had already conquered the north of the country were likely to take over the international airport at Sévaré, blocking access for any international military intervention, and opening the way to take over the capital, Bamako.

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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’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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African Union Peace Operations

December 10, 2012 by

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. African leaders adopted a new charter in 2001 and the OAU became the African Union (AU). The principal organs of the AU are the Assembly, the most important component that consists of the heads of state and government from each of the 54 member states.  The Assembly meets twice a year. The Executive Council consists of ministerial-level representatives from each country and is responsible to the Assembly. The Commission is the secretariat that has a permanent staff and handles the day-to-day management of the AU.

The Peace and Security Council is a 15-member elected body that manages strategic and operational decisions related to conflict. The Peace and Security Council began operations in 2004 as “a collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient response to conflict and crisis situations in Africa.”

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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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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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Benghazi Attack: AQIM Terrorists had their roots in Mali

October 12, 2012 by

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.

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Benghazi Consulate Attacks: The Global War on Terror Continues

October 3, 2012 by

Senators said they were misled regarding the attacks on September 11, 2012, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. According to The Hill article, “Senate GOP furious newspaper got better briefing on Libya”, by Alexander Bolton on September 22, 2012, several Senators asked Secretary Hillary Clinton “How many people were at the Benghazi consulate”, and for information on the sequence of events in the attacks.

Senator John McCain stated “We were told absolutely nothing,”, and “If that isn’t an incredible disrespect to the members of the United States Senate, I don’t know what is. It’s an example of the disdain with which this body is held by the administration, including, I’m sorry to say, the Secretary of State.”

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Syria and the Dogs of War

September 28, 2012 by

Free Syrian Army fighter in central Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war, That this foul deed shall smell above the earth, With carrion men, groaning for burial”

– William Shakespeare

“Blood and destruction,” “dreadful objects,” and “pity choked” was the Bard’s searing characterization of what war visits upon the living. It is a description that increasingly parallels the ongoing war in Syria, and one that is likely to worsen unless the protagonists step back and search for a diplomatic solution to the 17-month old civil war. From an initial clash over a monopoly of power by Syria’s Baathist Party, the war has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, ignited regional sectarianism, drawn in nations around the globe, and damaged the reputation of regional and international organizations.

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Malian Diaspora: A Product of the Arab Spring

September 20, 2012 by

Young boy in the Dogon village in Southern Mali. John Isaac/UN

On September 10, 2012 Yeah Samake, the mayor of Ouéléssébougou in Mali, and I visited the Mintao Refugee Camp located in the northern Burkina Faso town of Djibo. We left the capital city of Ouagadougou early that morning, traveling a distance of over 150 miles on potholed roads, arriving at the camp four hours later.

We passed several overloaded trucks along the way carrying precious food supplies to the destitute Diaspora that had succumbed to the washed out ruts in the road.

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