Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 1, 2013

Mali/Africa Report: “Gone well” (but only w/ French military, U.S. non-committal stance, etc.)

WestAfricaMap_lg RAINMali-jpg

Note: “area of interest” box is about freshwater management & experiments in Africa. War & water… that’s Africa in a nutshell in the first part of the 21st century.


A small but important anti-terrorism story appears in the news today involving Mali and Algeria, which I picked up through

I will pass along excerpts, make a couple comments or clarifications, and then review the overall situation in Mali for those just joining us here at Marking Time. (I’ve only been following the story a few months now, but I did do a previous post about Mali and Sudan in here last month.)

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Prominent al Qaeda figure in Mali reported killed in French airstrike

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, CNN

updated 12:44 AM EST, Fri March 1, 2013

(CNN) — One of al Qaeda’s most influential figures in North Africa has been killed in a French airstrike in northern Mali, according to sources close to the French military command in the country.

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was a deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and one of its most ruthless commanders, having seized at least a dozen foreigners for ransom. At least two have been killed; several French citizens remain captive.

Military sources quoted by French media say that in the past few days Abou Zeid and a substantial number of his fighters were killed during a French bombardment near Aguelhok in northern Mali.

His death was first reported by an Algerian television station, Ennahar.

– – – jumping to later in the story – – –

Aguelhok is a remote town close to mountains and the Algerian border — in a region where many Islamist fighters had regrouped in the face of the French push toward the main cities of the north.

According to analysts, it is an area that Abou Zeid was intimately familiar with, as for years it was his main base of operations before Islamists took over much of northern Mali.

For much of the last year, a constellation of jihadist forces including Abou Zeid had controlled large parts of northern Mali after ethnic Tuareg rebels had forced the army to retreat. He spent much of his time in and around Timbuktu, partly at a luxurious mansion that had been built for Moammar Gadhafi, according to reports from the city.

so let’s review the players here

There are at least four forces or influences now at work in Northern Mali:

1) al Qaeda’s international jihadist fighters (de-centralized, but formidable & well-funded, generally by Middle Eastern Islamic extremists looking to spread Shariah law throughout the world through Islamic “republics”),

2) the pre-existing Tuareg ethnic group in northern Mali, plus in Algeria and elsewhere — a historically poor but proud people group, mostly herders historically, probably also Muslim, but not necessarily interested in the entire politic0-religious shariah law “package” that outside power-brokers are trying to impose. Their 10+ year long rebellion, unfortunately, was co-opted by al Qaeda-influenced forces in the region before and during a recent military coup by non-Tuaregs:

Here’s how a March 2012 New York Times story describes the shifts of power, about a year ago (bolded words are my own stressed points):

The UN’s political chief said there was a link between the uprising against Moamer Kadhafi last year and the Mali coup…

Ethnic Tuaregs who fought with Kadhafi returned to Mali and joined the Tuareg rebellion against the government, said UN assistant secretary general B. Lynn Pascoe.

“Of course there is a relationship because many of the Tuaregs had gone to Libya because there they could earn more money working in the military,” Pascoe told reporters.

On returning to Mali, the ex-Kadhafi fighters and the arms they brought from Libya “clearly added more firepower and drive” to the long-standing Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.

3) the present Malian government, nominally led by Prime Minster Django Cissoko (spelled Sissoko in some places?), but now in disarray or non-credible, after a second military coup led by U.S.-trained Capt. Amadou Sanogo in Dec. 2012 that ousted Prime Minister Diarra after just nine months…

4) the French government and its military forces – sent in starting in mid-January 2013 and still working with other West African nations (most notably Chad’s military) to stabilize northern Mali. The French (the former colonial power in both Mali and Algeria) went in sort of unilaterally (though invited by an African coalition of Mali’s neighbors) because the U.N. couldn’t get its own act together quickly enough to be effective. Meanwhile my own government here in the U.S. probably doesn’t want to alienate the Malian military or our “friends” within the elite ruling class in Mali… though maybe they should, if Sanogo turns out to have that same  self-involved “strongman” character as most other coup leaders– like Idi Amin was in Uganda, a generation ago… and Sanogo sure looks the part to me

— — —

A Time magazine article published just two days ago discusses the political and military realities being faced throughout the region, and the ways in which Mali could become France’s version of the ongoing Afghan mess that the U.S. presently faces.

But I think France sort of knows what it’s doing in the region diplomatically, so it could end better. Here’s a relevant quote from the article in Time:

“The operation has gone well, but the real question is whether it will give rise to longer-term stability arrangements in Africa, among Africans, with limited outside help requested,” confided a French diplomat, who follows the Mali intervention closely, last week. “If we can make the follow-through work, it may provide a model for crisis intervention the international community may want to replicate — and extremists could find quite troublesome.”

Read more

— —

In some ways these same four “players” above are in the mix, in almost every case, throughout Africa:

  1. Islamists trying to spread their rigid vision of a world where political and religious law are one and the same. (Though the influence of the Islamists is not as strong in central or Southern Africa, it is still present, and spreading…)
  2. Tribal/ethnic forces that have often been in place since before the dawn of both Islam AND Christianity — the tribes and clans are different for each country or region, of course, but the struggles for power and/or peace are often similar.
  3. Local post-colonial indigenous governments, often with good intentions, but with too many personal agendas or class-related biases on the part of individual members of those governments. Meanwhile, as the bible says: “without a vision, the people perish”. 
  4. Former colonial nations (France, Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal) who often still have an economic or political stake in the region, despite reduced or surrendered power there.

*  *  *

I’m gonna have to wrap this up. But stay tuned. It ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings. In my opinion, Saudi Arabia, Iran and some of the powerful funders of revolution from the United Arab Emirates are the fat ladies… but that’s a story for another day…

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  1. […] Mark’s Mali/Africa Report, Feb 2013. […]

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