Archive for the ‘Chad’ tag
New York- I’ve authored a recent article in the March edition of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review in the United Kingdom on the sprawling French-orchestrated counter terror operation called Barkane in Africa’s greater Sahara-Sahel region. The French effort has been met with mixed results at best in that during its as yet unfinished timeline, salafist terrorism has spread all the way to the Atlantic with the March 13 attack by sub-Saharan AQIM operatives on the Hotel Etoille du Sud resort in the Côte d’Ivoire’s Grand Bassam commune situated east of Abidjan in the Comoé District not far from the Ghanian border.
The Grand Bassam assault is part of what we can sadly call a distinct pattern of AQIM’s attacks well beyond its traditional theater of terror in Algeria from where it was b0rne out of the ashes of that country’s civil war. Firstly there was the attack on the Radisson Blu in Bamako’s ACI 2000 district in November followed by the siege of the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou in January. The arc of this does not appear to have any end in sight in the near term. Attacks in West Africa get nowhere near the coverage as those carried out by IS in Western capitals such as Paris and Brussels but they demonstrate that the al-Qaeda brand has a much bigger footprint in a part of the world that until very recently once essentially devoid of salafi-jiahdi cruelty.
And then there is the spreading threat posed by IS-allied Boko Haram which has deployed suicide bombers–some of them young girls–outward from northeastern Nigeria and into Cameroon’s Région de l’Extrême-Nord, Niger’s southeastern Diffa region and southwestern Chad’s lac region, all around the the Lake Chad basin.
My article analyses the recent history of salafist violence in this part of the world with the reasonings behind continuing, geographically escalating attacks on soft, civilian targets aimed at garnering attention with mass casualty events. As I began writing it in November in the aftermath of the Bamako attack, I didn’t game out things going as far afield as southern Côte d’Ivoire so quickly (though I did see things potentially reaching the Atlantic via Senegal which thus far thankfully hasn’t played out). Curiously, Ivorian forces are not part of the five-nation alliance of sorts that participate in Barkhane. It was simply a soft target in a weak state still recovering from a vicious set of civil wars which was ill prepared for an AQIM operation.
In the core years of the terror wars after 9/11, Africa was always a seldom reported upon, low priority in comparison to the war Afghanistan and later Iraq. Sure, there was the State Department’s Pan-Sahel Initiative and then the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership but who–excluding think tank types–today even remembers these programs which effectively amounted to nil?
New York- The first images have seeped out of the Franco-Chadian battles in the Adrar des Ifoghas and the Adrar Tigharghar areas of northeastern Mali’s Kidal Region today. Both Chadian state television and al-Jazeera Arabic gained (or were given) access. Contained briefly in the al-Jazeera English version of the AJA report was this fleeting image of a dead man alleged to be the notorious Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the AQIM/Signatories in Blood katiba leader.
Chadian TV describes its battle as one against “narco-terrorists” of “diverse nationalities” while displaying images of bedraggled captives, mud-caked technicals and dust-encrusted munitions. French news weekly Le Point has exclusive images of French soldiers captured war material from AQIM including a BM-21 Grad truck with a 40 shell Multiple Launch Rocket System.
Update: Long after I posted this, France publicly confirmed the death of AQIM’s Abou Zeid but never did such for the case of Belmokhtar. The fate of Belmokhtar is still the subject of wild speculation. Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno said firmly (if bizarrely) that Belmokhtar exploded himself after learning of the death of Abou Zeid in a moment of pure desperation. On the other hand, Algiers indicates that it believes Belmokhtar is in southern Libya-likley related to their version of deadly events surrounding the In Amenas gas plant raid. Only time will truly tell I suppose.
Benghazi- Things are looking a bit bleak from here today. The Qaddaf’s are now making a serious push east while Seif is blabbing about never surrendering and never giving up the country. The rebels are backpedaling in high gear out of the Ras Lanuf area and will have to seriously reassess their logistics and casualties in Brega. Without Western intervention, it’s beginning to look like the rebels will be toast on the highway if they don’t get their act together or get some serious, committed external support. I was wondering if Idriss Déby’s Chad, Qaddafi’s long-time regional nemesis, might help them out but I haven’t heard anything. Obama and NATO/EU are still talking while people here are ready to lay their lives on the line.
As the really nice guy who gave me a ride home last night said: “We have gone half way. We cannot turn back now. We will never go back to Qaddafi.” He then gave me a beautiful woven scarf that he said was from one of his traditional Libyan clothing shops that are closed since the start of the war. Of his workers: “Those from Egypt have gone back there. Those from here are fighting down in Ras Lanuf.” Though many here in the east continue to scoff at the Guide’s and Seif ridiculous bravado, I’m seriously starting to wonder if the party in Benghazi is over. When I first arrived, there was a huge banner on the corniche that read: “No Intervention. We Can Do It [overthrow Q] On Our Own.” The other day I saw that banner laying in a crumpled pile.
Though each night in front of the courthouse, there continues to be a carnival atmosphere that often balloons into the thousands, if Q’s crew can keep pushing along the Gulf of Sirte, can the rebels adequately defend their de facto capital? Rather than the old fashioned multi-front war that’s going on now, this could really turn into an asymmetric insurgency fairly quickly. If the guys hadn’t been wasting so much ammo in needless displays of machismo the last few weeks, I might not be so worried. The funny thing is I’m now quite sure that it is because of the very presence of so many journalists here coupled with the lack of free expression that has existed for decades, that has caused the rebels to blow so much smoke into the sky. I often wonder if not a single camera was there, would they be wasting all of this gunpowder? It’s sort of a silly tree-falls-in-the-forest question I suppose.
Yesterday I went for lunch at my driver Faisal’s house and he pulled out a beat up old Kalashnikov he has stowed behind the couch for when the bad days come. Or for when the street crime becomes too much to bear. He told me that a friend of his gave it to him after the army barracks were trashed at the beginning of the revolt but that if one were to try and buy an AK now, the street price is nearly 3000 dinars (approx. $2000 USD if you go to the right money changer in the souq). I picked up a few Sanussi flags as souvenirs and wandered around meeting people and trying to make a few observations. Interestingly, as so many of the estimated 1.5 million Egyptians have fled the country, which make up much of its proletarian workforce, there are still loads of black Africans from the Sahel countries here. Frail looking women from Niger and Chad line the souq’s walkways vending tchotchkes and sit looking glum with blue tattooed tribal markings on their faces. I can only infer how pathetic the Sahelian economies must be to sit in a war-torn Arab city rather than even attempt to return home. That, or perhaps they simply can’t go home if their families are depending on remissions of Libyan cash or there is the social stigma of failure if one returns to the village prematurely as can be the case in South Asia.