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Libya- Looking Back on Revolution 2011

February 17th, 2014 No comments
As soon as I reached Benghazi on March 1, 2011, I walked around at dusk scrambling for photos to capture the mood of the revolution. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

As soon as I reached Benghazi on March 1, 2011, I walked around at dusk scrambling for photos to capture the mood of the revolution. I sat at the ouster of Mubarak in Cairo because there were already to many expat journos (and apparently a number of AUC grads lingering around) and I tend to prefer to cover to more logistically difficult stories where there are fewer Westerners. But the situation in Cairo fed into that in Benghazi. By the time I arrived in Tobruk on February 28, Cyrenaica was crawling with veteran correspondents I’d seen since Afghanistan and ambitious, yet totally inexperienced “millennials” alike. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Three years ago today a bloody revolution kicked off in earnest in Benghazi, Libya which ended the rule of Muammar Qaddafi, longest dictatorial regime in post-colonial Africa surpassing even that of Omar Bongo in Gabon who ruled that country for 41.5 years. The locals referred to the happening as the “February 17th revolution.” I’ll never forget the fortitude of the Libyan people in the face of immense, violent repression.

Here are a few selected images from that time.

One of the near daily demonstrations outside the courthouse on the corniche in Benghazi. What interested was that much of the anger had not so much to do with the then ongoing civil war but was rooted in the 1996 Abu Slim prison massacre where families allege Qaddafi's goons killed some 1200 inmates. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

One of the near daily demonstrations outside the courthouse on the corniche in Benghazi. What interested was that much of the anger had not so much to do with the then ongoing civil war but was rooted in the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre where families allege Qaddafi’s goons killed some 1200 inmates. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

The Libyan revolution's key symbol was the tricolor flag of King Idris as-Senussi, himself from a Cyrenaican order. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

The Libyan revolution’s key symbol was the tricolor flag of King Idris as-Senussi, himself from a Cyrenaican order.  It was much more visually interesting than Qaddafi’s monochromatic green banner. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Faisal, my driver for two weeks of coverage. us outsiders couldn't do what we do without guys like him. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Faisal, my driver for two weeks of coverage. Us outsiders couldn’t do what we do without guys like him. He took me to the souq to get one of these awesome Tunisian hood jackets. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

The other hallmark of the Libyan conflict was the "technical," often a Toyota pickup truck mounted with a Soviet or other Eastern Bloc-origin heavy machine gun mounted in the flatbed. Here a fighter prays in the sand before veering off toward the front. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

The other hallmark of the Libyan conflict was the “technical,” often a Toyota pickup truck mounted with a Soviet or other Eastern Bloc-origin heavy machine gun mounted in the flatbed. Here a fighter prays in the sand before veering off toward the front. Use of the Toyota HiLux as a tactical fighting vehicle was pioneered in the Libyan-Chadian war during the 1980s, much to Chad’s advantage. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Conspiracies abounded over this 81mm mortar shell that it was a piece of Israeli ordinance being supplied to Qaddafi's forces. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Conspiracies abounded over this 81mm mortar shell that it was a piece of (incongruous?) Israeli ordinance being supplied to Qaddafi’s forces. War zones are often rife with unfounded conspiracy theories, particularly when a closed society has just broken open. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An NTC fighter rushed into the hospital in Ajdabiya as Qaddafi's armor moved closer to Benghazi while internationalists were still hammering out the details of a military intervention from above. Tim Hetherington was next to me when I took this photo. He would be killed in Misrata five weeks later. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An NTC fighter rushed into the hospital in Ajdabiya as Qaddafi’s armor moved closer to Benghazi while internationalists were still hammering out the details of a military intervention from above. Tim Hetherington was next to me when I took this photo. He would be killed in Misrata five weeks later. When I tried to get to the front that day, a rebel warned me in English that they didn’t want journos there anymore at all and access was denied. Behind him, a cleric was yelling on a megaphone in Arabic that some journos were spies aiding the regime and not to trust them any longer. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

After the eerie vibe in Ajdabiya the day before, I decided to bail on Libya for a while and headed back to Alexandria. When I got to Salloum, there were Chadian men making the maghrib salat. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

After the eerie vibe in Ajdabiya the day before, I decided to bail on Libya for a while and headed back to Alexandria. When I got to Salloum, there were Chadian men making the salat al-maghrib. Egypt, in the view of its own tumult didn’t want to let the fleeing sub-Saharan migrant workers in. They were living outdoors at the border in total limbo. When I crossed into Libya two weeks before, the border was swarmed with Bangladeshi migrants who terrible, irresponsible government said it was too broke to bring them home to South Asia ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Egypt, Libya Tags: , , ,

Syria’s Doomed Ceasefire

October 26th, 2012 No comments

New York-One of the myriad topics was what constitutes or defines intervention in Syria.  A high-ranking NATO official explained to me at 2 2012 security conference that the Alliance was emphatically not going to get involved militarily in Syria even if the so-called “red lines” set forth by individual member states were crossed time and again. When NATO became deeply involved in the Libyan war, it was under the auspices of protecting civilians as stipulated by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which outlined the multi-national mission that culminated in Operation Unified Protector.

Members of the Free Syrian Army take aim at a Syrian Army post across the valley in northwestern Idlib Governorate. @2012 Derek Henry Flood

I mentioned at that February conference that I had inadvertently run across a pair of intelligence operatives on atop a cliff on the outskirts of Nalut in western Libya’s Jebel Nafusa/Western Mountains region in August 2011. I presumed the men to be either Central Intelligence Agency officers or former ones who were now for-hire intelligence contractors. They were providing real-time battlefield intelligence while decisive air strikes were being carried out in the then (until 6pm that day to be specific) Qaddafist-controlled towns of Ghazayah and Takut on the stiflingly hot plains down below. With a satellite phone and military grade macro binoculars they were apparently relaying coordinates for air strikes and feedback about the accuracy of previous bombardments.

Libya’s NTC rebels rest in the shade after capturing the Qaddafist-held town of Takut with NATO and CIA assistance on July 28, 2011. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

When I confronted the NATO official about this, which to me appeared to be in direct violation of UNSC 1973 as an outside power was clearly taking sides with one of the conflict’s belligerents thereby nullifying the idea of any form of non-partisan negotiated solution with the Qaddafi regime, NATO’s man swiftly countered that member states within the Alliance had undertaken unilateral intelligence missions which were not part of NATO’s mandate nor had its official bureaucratic blessing. Oh, ok, well I guess that wraps my question up neatly, right?

BUT…how were the Libyans on the ground, both NTC rebels and Qaddafists, supposed to interpret these elite distinctions made in Brussels, Washington, Doha, London, Paris and Benghazi? For the Libyans, the CIA and NATO were one in the same, entirely conflated entities. Not to mention perfect fodder for those on the anti-imperialist left and conspiracy theorists in general who cynically assume the overthrow of Mu’ammar Qaddafi was planned long ago at a Bilderberg Group meeting or some such thing.

Destroying Takut in order to save it. NTC rebels rest in a smashed police checkpost at the entrance to the western Libyan town after wresting it from Qaddafist forces in concert with precision airstrikes, ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

So as the viewer’s comment pointed out NATO itself is nowhere in the vicinity of launching a large-scale military intervention in Syria but individual member states are indeed carrying out an intelligence war as unilateral, sovereign state actors outside the bounds of the trans-Atlantic security structure. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen had been adamant that Syria will not become another Libya stating an armed humanitarian intervention was ”not the right path.”

The conundrum escalated with the recent cross-border shelling by Syria when ordinance not only landed on Turkish soil but killed Turkish nationals which appears at least on the surface to have caused Rasmussen to change tack. An attack on one member state is theoretically an attack on the broader Alliance which the other members must then be obligated to defend if such action is deemed necessary. Now Secretary General Rasmussen has stated “We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary.”

I also want to quickly elaborate on the unraveling of the October 20, 1998 Adana Agreement which was essentially a peace treaty between Turkey and Syria to halt PKK attacks that were being mounted from safe havens on Syrian territory at the time in a vicious proxy dispute over water rights. Hafez al-Assad, near the end of his thirty year reign, sought to improve relations with Turkey and expelled Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan, the PKK’s cult-like leader. (Ocalan was captured in Kenya on the run in 1999 and extradited to Turkey where he remains holed up in an island prison today in the Sea of Marmara) Turkish-Syrian relations than greatly improved as Turkey tilted away politically from the European Union and began renewing ties, particularly economic ones, in the lands that constituted its former Ottoman realm (as well as warming relation with the clerical regime in Iran as part of its “zero problems with neighbors” policy).

Turkey nearly mounted an invasion of Syria in the late 1990s under the pretext of attacking the PKK. Turkey has also had a long time military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan and parliament in Ankara recently renewed Turkey’s standing hot pursuit mandate whereby Turkish ground forces can enter Iraq when giving chase to PKK fighters. So Turkish troops moving into Syria en masse is not so unthinkable in the present scenario.

The PKK has been stepping up attacks across southern Turkey in recent months and many Turks believe Bashar is playing his father’s old PKK card from the 1990s in an act of calculating strategic desperation. After all, what else does the already isolated Syria regime really have to lose at this point?  Even if the Assad government can somehow survive, relations with an AKP government in Turkey will not be put back together again. It is from this calculus that the Assad regime is basing its tragic strategic decisions and going with what is known as “the Hama solution” (code for scorched earth tactics in crushing any serious threat to their Ba’athist Alawi dynasty)

A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The Struggle for Northern Mali and Other Troubles

July 24th, 2012 No comments

Souvenir in Bamako’s Grand Marché depicting an undivided Mali from happier times. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have a new article out today in the July issue of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s Sentinel publication. I am honored to have been awarded the cover story for the second time this year. The story is based on the two weeks I spent in Mali in May and June and a couple of months of armchair research here in Barcelona and New York. As last year when I was avidly and concomitantly following Libya and Bahrain in particular, this year my attention has largely turned to Syria and Mali.

The conflict in Mali is, yes, a result of the NATO-GCC backed war in Libya in part but Libya’s troubles are not the cause of Mali’s current crisis. The causes of Mali’s 2012 rebellion of messy irredentism and radical Islamism are rooted in local economic, ethnic, and ecological disparities. There are long-held grievances among several of northern Mali’s communities that have sat unresolved for many decades. These issues of emphasized racial and ethnic difference are discussed fairly in depth in Bruce S. Hall’s A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960

Global warming (now marketed as climate change) is a causal factor. Coupled with climate issues are then food security and the survival of livestock-key for both the sedentary agriculturalist and semi-nomadic pastoralist populations competing for land and scare resources in the wider Sahel. In this light neighboring Niger is especially vulnerable with many of the same environmental and ethnic issues at stake.

So is the legacy of French divide et impera (divide and rule) during the colonial period. Up until Mali’s independence in 1960, French administrators favored certain groups over others in order to maintain their grip on power. The Salafi agenda of AQIM (and now MUJAO) has certainly exacerbated and accelerated things. The kidnapping for Westerners, most notably the brazen hostage taking in Timbuktu’s Centre Ville in late November 2011 in which a German national was shot dead when he tried to resist being hauled off into the unknowns of the Sahara, has utterly destroyed Mali’s relatively lucrative and quite vital (yet fragile) tourism industry.

On top of all this I am still trying to keep up with events in Syria. It appears from the outside looking in that the war has to have been amplified by the audacious assassinations of  National Security Chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Assef Shawkat and former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani. This has brought a sea change in the level of political violence across the country not most notably in the formerly quiet Aleppo Governorate. It seems that the al-Jaish as-Suri al-Hurra (the endonym of the Free Syrian Army) has certainly achieved increased momentum in recent days in what has been essentially an unabated war of attrition.

With the Free Syrian Army back in January. What a terrifying, difficult trip this was. What’s the old line from Raiders? “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.” ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Before the year is out I may return to one or both of these troubled nation-states. Hard to fathom what the fall of Damascus will mean, particularly for Syria’s Alawite community as well as its numerous Christians. Add to that Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. I remember in Baghdad and environs in the spring of 2003 when there was an immediate backlash against Palestinians hosted by the Hussein regime who were resented at best and deemed collaborators at worst by furious Iraqis.

Damascus will be a tremendous tinderbox once the tipping point against Assad is finally reached. It won’t likely happen overnight (unless there were to be a spectacular and ingeniously successful assassination plot) but history is definitely against such a calcified, minoritarian regime in the Middle East today.

Another issue which managed to grab my attention today is the violence erupting in Khorog, the regional capital of Tajikistan’s difficult to access Kohistan Badakhshan (a.k.a. Gorno-Badakhshan in Russian). At least 42 people have been reported killed so far in clashes after the local intelligence chief was savagely beaten (some reports say stabbed) to death by assailants linked to a local warlord hailing from the 1992-1997 civil war.

Street portrait, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, July 8, 2010. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

This means something to me because I have a friend from Khorog and I’d imagined visiting the place one day. We chatted on skype today and she is terribly fretful because all phone service has been cut to the city and she cannot reach family members still residing there (she lives outside Tajikistan). The needless mayhem may have been the result of the hard sought after cigarette smuggling trade along the Afghan border.  Though the region is infamous for its Russia-bound heroin trade, like all borders in the global Balkans, it’s a hub for Marlboros as well. Hopefully more information will come to light soon. Tajikistan is an incredibly brittle place that has never properly reconciled the wounds from its horrific post-Soviet civil war.

Splendid scenery in Varzhob, Tajikistan, July 7, 2010. This was my driver. Absolutely hilarious, multilingual nutcase hustler. He brought me to this lake when it was baking hot in Dushanbe and I was desperate to cool off in this landlocked country. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

The Malian Tortoise and the Libyan Hare

May 31st, 2012 No comments

This West African tortoise quietly plods around my guesthouse here. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Bamako- Though everyone, myself included, were talking about how Libya differed from Syria at the outset of 2012, I’m now thinking how Mali differs from Libya in terms of working. In Libya nearly as soon as I arrived in Benghazi, I did a trip straight to the front with a group of random journos I met in the parking lot of the journo hotel. Stories and photos seemed to be falling into my lap. Adrenalin pumped day and night. The international community was mobilized into military action to aid the rebels just a month into the revolutionary war. Libya was immediate. It practically bordered the European Union.

Here in Mali it seems to be the polar opposite. There are just a handful of journalists here at any given time. People outside the country cannot have a clear grasp on what is really going on here, due in large part to the rebels’ constant flip flopping on their own agendas and the constant political infighting in the capital. In other words, it is slow going here. The stories don’t just suddenly appear. They practically have to be exhumed. None of the sides in the conflict are particularly interested in gaining any meaningful press coverage it seems.

What people need to know is that fight for Mali has really yet to begin. Both sides (north and south) are essentially in a stalemate but there is no telling how long this shaky status quo will hold. Will the northern rebels finally consolidate their agendas? Will ECOWAS move in in any real form militarily? Does Sanogo mean what he said that his sole objective is retaking the northern regions rather than gain political power for himself? At the time of this writing there are still so many questions to be answered.

NATO has tidily washed its hands of this quagmire in waiting here in the Sahel. The conflict in Mali is a direct result of that in Libya last year. Not to say that this situation could or should have been so easily predicted or expected. This country is falling apart. From the Bamakois take on events of the past few months, it already has fallen apart in the past tense. What took just a couple of days to fall to MNLA and Ansar Eddine forces may take months or even years to restore or negotiate a settlementFrom an outsider’s point of view, there is no one to talk to because neither side is speaking from a singular, unified platform.

In light of all this mess, the comparatively slow moving, underrated story in Mali is the proverbial tortoise that make eventually overtake last year’s lightening speed Libyan hare in the news cycle. We’ll just have to sit on our hands and see. There certainly aren’t hordes of war tourists flocking here at the moment. Sometimes I like that just fine…I can still vividly recall a time when no one gave a damn about Afghanistan. It was August of 2001.

Categories: Africa, Libya, Mali Tags: , ,

Portraits of Libya

May 22nd, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- I finally was able to upload this Libya mash-up video I had been working on in NYC from here in Catalunya. For technical reasons beyond my knowledge or control, I was having a devil of a time getting the thing onto Youtube before. I had wanted to get this online before the Friends of Anton benefit event at Christies in Manhattan on May 15. Not that I had anything to do with the event of course, but I was one human degree of separation from Anton Hammerl and I simply thought it would be something nice to do. I’m off to the next conflagration in the shattered Republic of Mali and wanted to get this up beforehand.

This project is obviously not a documentary or scripted television package. These are memories from Libya in total upheaval in 2011. This is my Libya mash-up, dedicated to those photographers that arrived in Libya to tell its story and never made it out. I want to reiterate how grateful I am to the people of both eastern and western Libya. Without their immense hospitality this project would never have been possible. War throws people together in such an odd way who would otherwise likely never have met.

!الثورة والحرية

The Kalashnikov

The Marxist-imbued Mozambican flag bearing the Kalashnikov rifle. Source: Wikipedia

New York- The Avtomat Kalashnikova assault rifle, known popularly as the AK-47 or Kalashnikov, became one of the defining symbols of Third World national liberation movements and a physical manifestation of anti-imperialist thought in the second half of the twentieth century. The Kalashnikov appears most notably Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)-designed flag of Mozambique pictured above. Hezbollah has a Kalashnikov-like weapon pictured on its yellow and green flag as a symbol of its persistent resistance to Israeli occupation and military hegemony. During the ‘summer war’ in July and August of 2006, the Ba’athist regime in Syria, one of the Shia group’s principal external state backers, had Hezbollah’s yellow banners flying up and down its Mediterranean coast to drum up Syrian domestic support as well as that of visiting GCC tourists. Syria’s cities were plastered with these what should be incongruous visuals that summer. Anyone who covers the developing world’s violent conflicts is likely intimately and awkwardly familiar with the Kalashnikov’s wood and metal sinews coupled with that unmistakable banana clip.

Wild jumble of Hezbollah and Ba'athist propaganda posters in Latakia, Syria on July 29, 2006. Note the visage of Imam Hussein to the left mixing in Shia religiosity. I find the central image of particular interest with Hezbollah Secretary-General Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah hoisting the aforementioned rifle of ambiguous provenance over his head. The image seems to suggest that if it came down to it, Nasrallah himself would pick up a gun and join the fight. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

An NTC rebel fighter loads a clip into his Kalashnikov near al-Aghela, Libya on March 4, 2011. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An FSA rebel fighter points his Kalashnikov toward the frontline in Ain al-Baida, Syria on January 29, 2012. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A pair of Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan (Northern Alliance) fighters tote their Kalashnikovs at a position at Ai Khanoum, Afghanistan at sunset on November 6, 2001. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An Afghan National Police officer brandishes a Hungarian AMD-65 rifle (an AKM variant) while patrolling a bazaar in Kabul during Afghanistan's 2009 presidential elections. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

On June 27, 2010, a sandal-clad Kyrgyz soldier inspects vehicles at a checkpoint in Osh, Kyrgyrzstan during that country's constitutional referendum vote on the devolution of presidential power in the wake of deadly inter-ethnic conflict in the Ferghana Valley earlier that month. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

In going through old photo portfolios this week I discovered an image I’d nearly forgotten I’d taken of a massive Soviet-style Kalashnikov monument on the road in central Iran. I love the photo not for its artistic merit obviously but for what it symbolizes. I tweeted the photo to C.J. Chivers, author of the definitive Kalashnikov book, The Gun.  In return he created a kind blog post featuring my snapshot which I’ve reposted below.

Screen grab from C.J. Chivers The Gun blog on my Iran photo. This monument appears to me to a fascinating mix of millenarian Iranian Shi'ism and Marxist realist public art. Stylistically the sculpture appears appears quite disjointed as if it was either created by more than one artist or was adapted or recycled from a previous monument. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

In Syria, like Father, like Son & Mali Slides from Democracy to Junta

March 26th, 2012 No comments

Like father, like son. Giant portraits of Bashar and Hafez al-Assad hang on a building in downtown Latakia, Syria in July 2006. I stayed in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold, while traveling from Antalya, Turkey to Lebanon to report on the vengeful Israeli air and ground campaign occurring that summer. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

New York- It’s been quite a while since I’ve managed to slug out a blog update due to bouts of sickness, busy-ness, and relaxing-ness. None of that is to say that TWD hasn’t been busy though. Where to begin…well things in Syria have obviously gotten much worse. Kofi Annan’s shuttle diplomacy is clearly an abject failure. Meanwhile the Free Syrian Army position visited by TWD in late January has been overrun according to the Telegraph’s Nick Meo who traveled to Guveççi in early March. After the vicious assault on Homs, I figured reprisals against rebellious bastions in Idlib Governorate would surely be next and indeed they were. I had been contemplating a return to Idlib in the spring but for now I’ve scuttled that idea less a major development occurs. All the talk of a Turkish imposed of led buffer zone is just that…talk.

The floundering Syrian revolution is the saddest quarter of the Arab Spring, beating out the quashed, well contained uprising in Bahrain by a long shot.  At least for the near term, it does not appear that any one actor is going to stick their neck out far enough and come to the FSA’s rescue. That is not to say their cause is entirely without hope. Though the stream of Russian-supplied arms through the Black Sea and on to Syria’s slice of the Mediterranean coast certainly does not foster much optimism for those longing to see the end of the conflict. With members of the FSA’s border sentinels back on their heels in Turkish territory, I’m quite curious as to just how that will affect the already rather timid talk of creating some kind of cordon sanitaire hugging the southern Turkish border.

With the fall of Deir ez-Zor last week, the FSA has lost its conduit to smuggled arms emanating from northern and western Iraq. So in sum, things are looking quite bleak. As the FSA has had to concede a succession of tactical retreats throughout March reversing many of their gains from 2011, those that cannot ditch to either Turkey’s Hatay Province or Lebanon’s North Governorate may have to resort to a form of taqiyyah (dissimulation) to save the revolution from Assad’s unforgiving mukhabarat. The bloody war in Syria being waged by Bashar al-Assad is like his father’s much more limited anti-Ikhwan campaign that lasted for several weeks in February 1982 when the city of Hama suffered through a pulverizing scorched earth campaign that was the writ small template for today’s crisis.

The world is paralyzed from acting in any sort of unison on Syria not just because of the well-reported obstinance of Russia and China on the UN Security Council but because that other all-important permanent member, the United States, could not take a firm position because it needed to be clear on what Israel’s position was first. The problem with that scenario has been that the Israelis have not really had a position at all, at least officially. The Israelis, behind the curve more often than not when it comes to change in the Middle East, hoped that the untenable status quo would somehow maintain in Syria so that they could keep their American patrons tightly focused on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Although the US, most notably the State Department, began to put some teeth into their statements regarding the Assad regime, this ends up being empty rhetoric when not backed up by concrete action on the ground of any sort. Now that everyone has twiddled their thumbs for so long, the FSA has lost much of the ground it once de facto controlled.

Though publicly the Israelis find Assad and Co. odious, they would prefer to deal with a rather predictable, supposedly rational enemy they know rather than a collapsed state on their doorstep or an emergent Sunni-led government intent on somehow regaining the illegally occupied Golan which Israel sees as critical to its water supply. And as with Libya, France and Britain cannot really do much in terms of military action without the US. The most important player in the whole deal appears to be the Kremlin which is always a sad state of affairs (see Chechnya, Dagestan et al.). Though every state shall perform diplomacy through the narrow prism of their national interest, having Medvedev (Putin) broker a Syrian peace/stalemate is absurd.  The FSA hoped Turkey would have their back but Ankara is too concerned about a resurgent PKK to do anything of substance on Syria. Turkey fears renewed Syrian assistance to the PKK that would allow them to stage attacks on Turkish security forces from Syrian ground as Hafez al-Assad had done until the late 1990s. Depressing all the way around.

While the world has been consumed by the war raging in the Levant, a very important geopolitical development has taken place in what many might incorrectly assume to be a quiet African backwater. A coup d’état took place in Mali last week as a direct result of the Western (and GCC)-backed overthrow and extrajudicial execution of Qaddafi in Libya last year.

With Qaddafi dead and the war in Libya shrunk down to a few internecine militia skirmishes and inter-ethnic squabbles little understood by the outside world, ethnic Tuareg fighters who had fought under Qaddafi’s monochrome green banner returned to their desert home in northern Mali to commence a new, better armed rebellion. There is a long history of the Libyan state, embodied singularly by Qaddafi’s quixotic territorial ambitions, co-opting the dispossessed Tuareg of Mali and Niger for Libya’s own purposes. Qaddafi thoroughly enjoyed making trouble for his neighbors (and anywhere in the world he deemed counter-revolutionary). He harbored rebel leaders from throughout the Sahel region. This interaction gave birth to the musical collective Tinariwen, arguably the world’s most famous beacon of Tuareg culture.

Now Mali’s Tuareg rebels, principally the MNLA, have launched a new war against the Malian state with arms and vehicles looted from the chaos in Libya last year. Mali’s regular army troops outgunned and even reportedly underfed at surrounded garrisons in the country’s three northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. In response, a group of disaffected Army officers formed a junta to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Touré (who was just weeks away from peacefully stepping down with new elections on the horizon).

The Arab Spring, which began as a chain reaction of calls for radical reform that quickly morphed into the toppling of strongmen across the region, has now inadvertently toppled a relatively decent democracy. Malian Tuareg who were either no longer needed or no longer welcome in Libya returned home to incite an insurrection to secede from the Malian state to create a Tuareg homeland of ‘Azawad.’ So now poor Mali-recipient of a meager amount of American foreign aid and client state in the Pan-Sahel Initiative/Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative/AFRICOM jumble-has had a fairly civil, democratically elected leader (himself a former soldier who led a coup in toppling  dictator in 1991) overthrown by an American-trained, hitherto unknown army captain who leads a junta angry about better armed MNLA rebels who are sort of beneficiaries of American/Western policy. This policy in Libya that greatly helped to collapse the Libyan state structure which gave rise a renewed troubles in Mali (and potentially Niger).

The proverbial genie is out of the bottle in the troubled under-governed Sahel and Qaddafi is no longer around to sort things out. NATO declared the Libyan campaign a success when it officially called an end to Operation Unified Protector on October 31, 2011 without any sort of contingency plans for potential state failure in the countries to Libya’s south. Qaddafi loved to stoke conflicts in Africa and now that he’s long dead, he’s still able to cause immense trouble.

My Asia Times Online article above was sourced heavily for a UPI article reprinted below:

Mali Coup: Arab spring spreads to Africa

BAMAKO, Mali, March 26 (UPI) – Last week’s military coup in Mali, triggered by a Tuareg rebellion and ignited by fighters and weapons from Libya, underlines how deeply the fallout from the year-old string of Arab uprisings is spreading from North Africa to non-Arab West Africa.

“The current crisis … has the potential to create further destabilization in the wider Sahara and Sahel regions beyond the current chaos in Mali,” observed analyst Derek Henry Flood, who witnessed the 2011 Libyan conflict at close quarters.

“In simplest terms, the Arab Spring has now bled into Africa. And the mercurial, egomaniacal (Moammar) Gadhafi is no longer available to mediate such deadly disputes.”

The coup by disgruntled soldiers of Mali’s 7,000-man army overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure, an ex-soldier.

He went into hiding with loyalist troops, including his old 33rd Parachute Regiment, leaving open the possibility of a counter-coup in the nation of 15.4 million.

The irony is that while the Arab leaders targeted by the popular uprisings against them throughout 2011 were dictators and despots like Gadhafi, Mali’s Toure wasn’t one of the autocratic “Big Men” of Africa like the late Sese Seko Mobuto of the Congo or the murderous Charles Taylor of Sierra Leone, but a democratically elected leader.

Indeed, the U.S.-supported Toure had been instrumental in moving Mali, a vast landlocked desert state south of Algeria, from a military dictatorship to a passably democratic state over the last two decades.

Toure “was on the cusp of stepping down at the end of his first term in what should have been a peaceful transition” in presidential elections scheduled to begin April 29, Flood observed.

These aren’t likely to happen now since troops led by mid-level officers seized power Thursday.

Led by a U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, they apparently struck because of discontent in the military that Toure wasn’t doing enough to support them in fighting a rebellion in the long under-governed north along the Algerian border.

The nomadic Tuareg have been a problem for centuries. Their secessionist insurrection had been stiffened by heavily armed tribal fighters who fought for Gadhafi’s regime and had long battled the Bamako government in the non-Tuareg south for independence under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

In recent months thousands of tribesmen have returned to Mali, armed with missiles and mortars that left the Malian army badly outgunned. In January, they rekindled the MNLA’s revolt.

The coup itself seems to have been touched off by a mutiny among troops in the north reeling under an MNLA onslaught led by Gadhafi’s Tuareg veterans.

Now the MNLA, having seized most of the north and with the military in disarray, is apparently moving south toward the capital, with government troops reportedly fleeing in the Tuareg path.

Algeria, the regional military heavyweight, is increasingly concerned that Mali will become a haven for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. This group has been extending its operations across North Africa and into the Sahel states of Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Other countries, particularly impoverished Niger with vast uranium deposits, are seen as increasingly vulnerable to AQIM and its allies, which have in recent years included Tuaregs across the region.

Many Nigerien Tuaregs also fought in Gadhafi’s forces and they’re going home armed with heavy weapons.

Niger had a coup of its own in 2010 and struggled with a Tuareg revolt in 2007-09.

The MNLA has overrun towns and military bases along Mali’s border with Niger, Algeria and Mauritania.

Algeria, which has ducked the worst of the Arab Spring, is to have elections in May amid widespread discontent. The last thing Algiers wants is more trouble from the southern desert while it battles AQIM.

Links between the jihadists of AQIM and the Tuareg are patchy but they may yet find common cause.

The March 20 arrest in Mauritania of Gadhafi’s infamous and fugitive intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, after he flew in from Morocco on a forged Malian passport “illustrates that the effects of regime change in Libya will be felt across Africa for some time to come,” Flood noted.

“It’s now clear that the consequences of the Western-backed Libyan campaign have now unequivocally traveled from North Africa to what is distinctly West Africa.”