The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Archive for the ‘Libya’ tag

At It Again: Haftar Redux in Libya

without comments

Rebels outside the town of Gharyan-where fighting between the LNA and pro-GNA forces is ongoing at the time of this posting-photographed on 26 July 2011. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Jaffna- In Libya, the 75-year-old General Khalifa Haftar who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) is back in the news cycle this week in a big way. Reportedly backed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in terms of war materiel, his forces are advancing close to Tripoli in what the nominally UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) led by  Head of the Presidential Council Fayez al-Sarraj is characterising as a coup attempt.

I thought it a good time to dredge up my deeply researched bio of Haftar I published with the Jamestown Foundation almost exactly eight years ago after he had initially returned to Benghazi from many years of exile in Virginia.

The following article was the subject of a Reuters story on 1 April 2011: Rebel army chief is veteran Gaddafi foe: think-tank and was mentioned in The Telegraph:Libya: rebels send trained forces to the front, telling youth to stay back

Taking Charge of Libya’s Rebels: An In-Depth Portrait of Colonel Khalifa Haftar

By Derek Henry Flood

Background

On March 14, 2011, Khalifa Haftar, a dissidentLibyan Army colonel and long time foe of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, reappeared in Benghazi, the opposition’s supposedly temporary de facto administrative center, to lead Libya’ s chaotic rebellion (al-Jazeera, March 14). For many years Haftar has been the commander-in-exile of the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is the armed wing of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), a significant Libyan exile entity operating mostly outside of Libya’s borders for several decades. A rebel spokesman in Benghazi told a pan-Arab daily that Colonel Haftar’s arrival from the West on the ground in Libya’s Cyrenaica region was a significant boost to a movement that desperately needed a jolt of energy. “Col. Haftar has in fact returned and is now in eastern Libya. His return has boosted the morale of the young revolutionaries. Haftar has returned and we believe that this officers and soldiers have returned with him. All of them were training during the past six years. They rom Libya’s 1969 coup, he may stand asthe best liaison for the United States and allied NATO forces in dealing with Libya’s unruly rebels.

Though it is not clear at the time of this writing (back in 2011) how much actual control Haftar has over rebel soldiers and volunteers on the frontline, after his appointment as “Commander in Chief” of opposition forces callingthemselves the “Army of Free Libya,” he stated that he has entered the fight to avenge the injustices committed against the Libyan people by Qaddafi. Haftar stated thathe does not view the present fight against Tripoli as an opportunistic moment to settle a nearly quarter century old grudge against Qaddafi (al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 19). Before Haftar’s return to Benghazi, the Interim National Transitional Council announced that former General Omar al-Hariri, who tried to overthrow al-Qaddafi in 1975, would be the head of military affairs for the rebel forces. General al-Hariri was imprisoned until 1990. He was then put under closely monitored house arrest, in place until the February 17 revolution commenced. Al-Hariri is listed on the Interim National Transitional Council’s website as being responsible for the opposition’s “military affairs.” The Council has not issued a similar press release in regard to Haftar’s status, and many frontline rebels are not clear on which of the two men is currently in charge. Colonel Haftar hails from the Farjani tribe (alternately known as Farjan) in the central coastal city of Sirte. He had been committed to Colonel al-Qaddafi when he seized power in the One September Revolution of 1969 which overthrew King Idris and the royal Sanussi order. Haftar was subsequently rewarded by being made a member of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). [1]

Interpersonal Struggles

Haftar was the overall leading commander of Libyan troops in the 1980-1987 Libyan-Chadian conflict until he was captured by then Chadian President Hissène Habré’s forces. Upon his capture by the Habré regime, he betrayed Qaddafi and then set his sights on deposing his former comrades in the Free Unionist Officers movement ruling in Tripoli. Haftar set up the LNA on June 21, 1988 [2] with strong backing from the Central Intelligence Agency and according to some sources also received Saudi funding and Israeli training. The Libyan Army defectors comprising the LNA, sometimes referred to as the “Haftar Force,” were termed “Contras” in the Cold War parlance of the era denoting their outlook as counter-revolutionaries struggling against al-Qaddafi’s eternal revolutionary state. Haftar dismissed the Contra label as “meaningless,” stating that the LNA is a “Libyanorganization with Libyan interests and Libyan goals”(al-Hayat, December 19, 1991). He said that while the LNA was temporarily basing itself in the United States, with 400 members dispersed across 25 states, he stressed that most of his outfit’s original support was indeed Libyan and Arab (al-Hayat, December 18, 1991).

While Haftar and between 600-700 fellow defectings oldiers were bolstered and equipped by U.S. intelligence after the formation of LNA in late 1988, history was not on Haftar’s side until 2011. General Idriss Déby, former commander-in-chief of the Chadian Armed Forces for several years during the war with the legitimate LibyanArmy led by Haftar and Libyan-backed Chadian rebels in Chad’s troubled northern BET Region, turned on the Habré government. Déby was backed by Tripoli in this scenario which ultimately resulted in the American plans for Khalifa Haftar to infiltrate Libya to be shelved.

Colonel Haftar was no longer welcome in Chad following the December 1990 military coup by Idriss Déby that deposed President Habré. Relations between Habré and Déby soured irrevocably with Habré accusing Déby of conspiring against him. Déby ousted his former mentor with Sudanese backing (IRIN, April 19, 2006). Following Habré’s overthrow, a brief warming of relations between N’Djamena and Tripoli occurred as Déby pragmatically flirted with the Libyan regime in order to consolidate his rule over Chad’s vast territory. Haftar’s rebels were ejected from Chad in the process, dispersing them throughout Africa. Those that chose not to return to Libya under an amnesty offered by Qaddafi were eventually resettled in the United Stateswhen their security in Africa was in doubt. [3]

Many questions have arisen among Western analysts in regard to the precise ideological nature and religious leanings of Libya’s rebel Shabaab movement since the outbreak of internecine hostilities there on February 17, 2011. The movement, now led at least partly by Colonel Haftar, is an ad hoc revolutionary one that is not monolithic in terms of either long term strategy or ideology. Libyan opposition movements like the NFSL/LNA have existed for decades before the current war and have been led by men like Khalifa Haftar weaned on the Arab nationalism of the mid-twentieth century. Libya’s exiled opposition groups tended to mixmodernist secularism with traditional Arab and Bedouin Islamism partly in reaction to al-Qaddafi’s assault on Libyan Muslim identity. [4] The challenge before Colonel Haftar is whether he can graft his experience and know-how from wars and ideologies past onto a young movement already in disarray.

Khalifa Haftar has been on the run from the al-Qaddafi regime since his capture in Chad in March 1987 following Libya’s disastrous defeat at the battle of Ouadi Doum in northern Chad’s Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti (BET) Region. Qaddafi, whom Haftar had considered a closeconfidant, was said to deny Haftar’s very existence while he languished in a Chadian POW camp for seven months. In reaction, an infuriated Haftar joined the LNSF at Habré’s behest and declared war against the Libyan state. [5] Hissène Habré, a staunch American ally in Africa in the context of the Cold War who Human Rights Watch now terms an “African Pinochet,” released Haftar from detention after the two pragmatically put aside their differences. The Reagan administration planned to utilize Khalifa Haftar to oust al-Qaddafi during his time in Chad. Haftar spent the next three years (1988-1991) in encampments surrounding N’Djamena training his soldiers for an eventual operation to overthrow al- Qaddafi. This plan was not to be as the geopolitical realities shifted in the Sahel/Sahara region before Haftar could be deployed into Libya proper. The entire covert project would be abruptly aborted.

Idriss Déby Moves In, Khalifa Haftar Moves On

As Idriss Déby’s Sudan-backed rebel movement gainedmomentum, Haftar knew his position in Chad would be jeopardized when Hissène Habré would inevitably fall. He devised a plan to mount an assault on French troops stationed outside the capital deployed as part of Opération Épervier. Épervier was a force dispatched by French President François Mitterrand to contain Libyan aggression in Chad. Haftar felt that France favoured Idriss Déby at the expense of the LNA and that he was threatened by Déby’s rebel advance toward the capital. Though France had been a long time supporter of Habré, he ultimately fell victim to the cooling of Franco-Chadian relations. The French remained, at least officially, neutral as Habré was quickly deposed. Colonel al-Qaddafi, sensing an opportunity with the changing of the guard in N’Djamena, relayed to Déby that he wanted the renegade Haftar repatriated to Tripoli, an act that might have meant certain death for Haftar.

Though General Déby did not comply with the Libyan request for the extradition of the dissident soldiers, Déby informed the United States that the Libyan rebels, many of whom he had personally fought, were no longer welcome in N’Djamena either and allowed them to be quietly shuttled out of the country. Déby’s unsympathetic position toward Haftar may be why Chad has yet to make any noise about aiding the rebels in the current war, as remaining bitterness between the two men is certainly not out of the question.

Déby tried to keep Habré at bay in Cameroon where he had fled after the coup d’état (AP, December 2, 1990). Chad’s new leader accurately sensed his people’s fatigue after years of unending conflict. He astutely opted out of fomenting further tension with al-Qaddafi at the time publicizing the American-supported LNA being evacuated from N’Djamena (Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1990) Déby was also much less interested in being an American proxy in Africa than his predecessor. The ascent of Idriss Déby greatly altered the trajectory of Haftar’s life. [6]

Flight

In a 1997 memoir by the late Smith Hempstone, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya during the administration of George H.W. Bush, Hempstone describes what was unofficially referred to as “Operation Magic Carpet”, a clandestine effort to spirit Haftar’s followers out of Mobuto Sese Seko’s Zaire (today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo) where they were potentially vulnerable to al-Qaddafi’s far reaching hit teams and possible entente between al-Qaddafi and Mobuto at the time. [7]

Haftar later fled N’Djamena following the Déby takeover and was flown on an American Hercules to Nigeria with much of the LNA. Circumstances in Nigeria did not permit them to stay in the country longer than 24 hours. American facilitators forwarded them to Zaire. Between 300-400 of Haftar’s roving, CIA-connected rebels had to flee Zaire after the U.S. Congress quashed a plan to funnel $5,000,000 to Mobutu’s regime to let the Libyans exist in his kleptocracy where they could regroup and plot against al-Qaddafi for another day. When the American plan to essentially pay off Mobutu was scrapped, Colonel a-Qaddafi funneled an undisclosed amount of money to Mobutu. For his part, al-Qaddafi demanded the return of the Zaire-based LNA fighters, particularly the leadership. Colonel Haftar called on his American connections to be brought directly to the U.S. from Zaire. The U.S. quickly obliged Haftar but the arrangement still left several hundred rebels behind in limbo. Haftar’s Libyan fighters then landed in President Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya where American officials hoped the Libyans would be welcomed, after a generous offer of cash to arap Moi’s debt burdened regime. [8] Though initially agreeing to receive funding from the U.S. ina quid pro quo for housing the Libyans, a month onNairobi had a change of heart after President arap Moi

All Was Not Quiet In the Interim

Haftar’s time in sub-Saharan African limbo at the outset of the 1990s was not his last gasp in wantingto overthrow al-Qaddafi. After the LNA and NFSL apparently drifted apart for several years, the Libyan exiles interest converged once again when, in the spring of 1996, Haftar reportedly instigated an insurrection in Cyrenaica’s historically defiant al-Jebel al-Akhdar region near the eastern city of Derna that raged at Haftar’s direction but was swiftly crushed (Reuters, March 26, 1996). [9] Reports at the time suggested that some of rebels in the al-Jebel al-Akhdar incident werethose fostered in Chad by the CIA prior to the 1990coup. [10] Nearly a decade after his defection, Haftar was linked to a failed coup attempt against al-Qaddafi (al-Majid [Amman], August 5, 1996) [11] Somewhat incongruously, a report citing unnamed Arab sources in Tripoli surfaced four years after the 1996 incidents that Haftar was considering returning to his nativeland. Haftar, through a spokesman, flatly refuted the speculation, suggesting it may have been disinformation spread by the Libyan intelligence services and noted: “We also have heard the reports of his intention toreturn. I spoke to him a short time ago and I can assureyou that Col. Haftar is in the United States and is notthinking about returning” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 16, 2000).

Conclusion

In a sense, Colonel Khalifa Haftar’s personal odyssey strings together a policy continuum of overt hostility between Washington and Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi. At the time of the United States’ most direct confrontation withColonel al-Qaddafi on April 15, 1986 with airstrikes onmilitary installations in Benghazi and Tripoli, Colonel Haftar was in good standing as one of the founding members of the RCC and was loyally commanding al-Qaddafi’s forces in the Libyan quagmire in Chad.Twenty-five years on, the American military alongside its NATO partners, is intervening in the 2011 Libyan civil war where Haftar has suddenly reemerged to build force structure amongst Libya’s chaotic rebels. It must be noted that in stark difference to the largely civil society led revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the war in Libya, as the odyssey of Khalifa Haftar’s life demonstrates, is as much, if not more tied to the African world as the Arab one. The Kalashnikov-powered revolution now being commanded on the front by Haftar has a very deep African dimension to it, owing to Libya’s modern military history and inescapable political geography. While Tunisia and Egyptian foreign policies correspond largely to the greater Mediterranean-Levant regions, Colonel al-Qaddafi’s efforts since 1969 have dragged Libya southward into sub-Saharan Africa.

While lawmakers and policy analysts in the West are repeatedly stating that they do not know just who Libya rebels are and to what degree they may be influenced by the transnational jihadism espoused by al-Qaeda, atthe helm of this movement is Colonel Khalifa Haftar, anold school secular Nasserist who has lived in the United States for twenty years. In a 1991 interview conducted in an LNA camp in rural Virginia, Haftar stated that he mostly closely identified himself with Omar al-Mukhtar, the legendary anti-colonial resistance leader hanged by Italian administrators in Libya in 1931. As al-Mukhtar challenged Benito Mussolini, an external tyrant, Haftar sees himself along a similar historical path in his lifelong battle with Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, the quintessential tyrant. Haftar, the former CIA confidant in Africa and now a veteran, hardline anti-Qaddafi activist, may prove to be the most apt conduit for the U.S./NATO and their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners.

Notes:

1. Colin Legum, Africa Research Ltd., AfricaContemporary Record: Annual Survey and Documents, Volume 26, (Teaneck, New Jersey: Holmes & Meier, 2002), p. B-543.

2. John Ruedy, Islamism and Secularism in NorthAfrica, (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996), p.195.

3. Ronald Bruce St John, Historical Dictionary of Libya,(Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2006), p.149.

4. Ruedy, op. cit.

5. J. Millard Burr, Robert O. Collins, Darfur: The LongRoad to Disaster, (Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers 2008) pp. 274; J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, Africa’s Thirty Years’ War: Libya, Chad and the Sudan 1963-1993, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999), p.300.

6. Smith Hempstone, Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir, (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South Press, 1997), pp.136-139.

7. Michael Clough, Free at Last?: U.S. Policy Toward Africa and the End of the Cold War, (New York: New York University Press, 1992), p.100.

8. Lucy Dean, The Middle East and North Africa 2004, Volume 50, (London: Europa Publications, 2003), p.788.

9. Clyde R. Mark, CRS Issue Brief for Congress-Libya, (Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 1996).

10. Clyde R. Mark, CRS Issue Brief for Congress-Libya, (Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2002), p.9.

11. Legum, op. cit.

Written by derekhenryflood

April 7th, 2019 at 6:08 am

Libya- Looking Back on Revolution 2011

without 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

Written by derekhenryflood

February 17th, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Egypt,Libya

Tagged with , , ,

A Decade of War and Peace

without 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

without 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

Written by derekhenryflood

July 24th, 2012 at 11:13 am

The Malian Tortoise and the Libyan Hare

without 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.

Written by derekhenryflood

May 31st, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Africa,Libya,Mali

Tagged with , ,

Portraits of Libya

without 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

Written by derekhenryflood

May 22nd, 2012 at 4:19 pm

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

without 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.”

Written by derekhenryflood

March 26th, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Halfway Around the World

without comments

View of Cologne's hulking gothic cathedral in the light of a bone chilling winter's day. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Istanbul, Köln, & New York- It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do an update after about three weeks of nonstop travel and work. I’m just going to post a mishmash of backlogged things of no particular importance. After leaving Antakya I spent a couple of incredibly cold, expensive days in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist district. Long gone are the days of Istanbul being a cheap tourist destination. But in its core, the town hadn’t changed a lick. The dudes who work in the tourist hustle still tell the European and Australian tourists that their names are incongruously things like “Steve” or “Johnny” whilst explaining that they’ve never been outside Turkey in their lives. In that sense it reminded me of my first trip to the city in the summer of 1998. Turkey seemed to have changed a bit in the era of the AK Parti and the Gulen movement and I felt like maybe the Efes didn’t flow as freely (and definitely not as cheaply) as it once did.  But no matter what ideological trends are sweeping across the Anatolian plains, Turkey is still a relative bastion of accommodation between Islam and global modernity.

The legendary Orient Hostel in Sultanahmet. Some of my earliest adventures began from this place including my perilous 2002 trip to the Pankisi Gorge on the Georgian-Chechen border. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I made the observation that Turk Hava Yollari (Turkish Airlines) is sort of a de facto foreign policy arm for Ankara yet again. A decade ago the Turkish national carrier was part of the pan-Turkism policy that reconnected Turkey with its distant Sovietized cousins in Central Asia. When I was at Ataturk Hava Limani (Istanbul’s main airport) the first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the first destination on the departures board was the formerly besieged Libyan city of Misurata. Not Tripoli or Benghazi but a direct flight to Misurata. This intimates Ankara’s soft power desires and influence in the shattered Libyan state across the Mediterranean.

It has always seemed to me that Turkish Airlines has been an instrument of soft power for Ankara. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Too distant to make out in this bad Blackberry snap, I noticed when boarding my flight to Köln that Afriqiyah Airways had painted the new-old Sanussi/Libyan independence flag on its jets above the rear passenger windows (and that it was back flying again after the end of the no-fly zone imposed by the UN on Libya last year). ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I’m still swamped with work related to my Syrian adventure and corresponding interviews with Syrian opposition figures in Turkey. I want to list a couple of things if nothing else than for my own personal archives. My speech from the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique September terrorism conference titled “Western boots on Eastern ground: A Comparison of Western Interventions in the Muslim World in the post-9/11 decade” is now available in PDF form (en Français) on the FRS site. I was quoted twice last week on CNN.com in “No Libya play for the West in Syria” and “How Syria differs from Libya.” This time last week I was presenting my work at an annual security conference comparing the scenarios in Libya & Syria and NATO’s supply lines in Central Asia in Wesseling, Germany which I will post more about when the CIOR site is updated and I have more time.

Statue detail on the lower exterior above an entrance to the Cologne cathedral. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

February 13th, 2012 at 12:18 pm