Tag Archives: AQIM

The Algerian Response, Motives & Consequences

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible.




The Algerian National Press Agency had released a preliminary assessment on January 19th stating that 23 had been killed, 32 terrorists neutralized. Nearly 800 hostages were freed including 107 foreigners. However, The Algerian Minster of Communication Mohamed Said, said on 20/01/2013 that these were provisional figures, and the numbers of those killed is likely to be higher (press conference by Prime Minister Sella: 37 foreigners dead).

The assault came as a surprise to most outsiders, including Washington, London and Paris. All claim not to have been consulted by the Algerian prior to the assault. Yet following the release of information about the scale and overall results of the operation, all have expressed greater support for counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Many observers have deemed the Algerian response heavy-handed  or brutal. The Minister of Communications summed up Algeria’s policy with respect to negotiations quite clearly when he stated: “No negotiation, no blackmail and no respite against terrorism”. However, an overview of Algeria’s historical legacy, the current regional dynamics and factors specific to the crisis at In Amenas provide a better understanding of Algeria’s hard-line policy and actions.

The Algerian Army launched the assault on the gas installation south  east of the capital Algiers after a group of Jihadists calling themselves the ‘Signers in Blood’; took over the installation and captured over 600 hostages including a large number of foreigners. The operation lasted over three days and details are starting to slowly emerge.

Historically, Algeria’s ‘dark decade‘ continues to shape the country’s counter-terrorism policy. Throughout the 1990s, the country’s armed forces fought Islamist militants in a bloody war with casualties including a large number of civilians. During the crisis, the ruling military establishment – Algeria’s core centre of power – was divided into two camps: those in favour of dialogue and the ‘eradicators’. Despite a return to civil rule, it is the latter that continue to hold key posts in the country’s security apparatus.

After more than a decade of fighting, and a brokered political solution, the country managed to push what it labels ‘residual terrorism’ south of major population centres and into the Sahel region. It is around this time that the rules of the game changed for both the armed Islamist – now franchised Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – and for the government. In 2003 European tourists were taken hostage and released upon an alleged ransom payment. The same group went on to perpetrate the country’s first suicide attack in 2007. Thus, Algerian authorities see any negotiation or interjection from outside countries as not only a breach of sovereignty, but also a direct security risk stemming from better armed groups.

The assault should also be seen in the larger context of instability in the region and the implications of this for the Algerian ruling regime. Firstly, civil war in Libya brought instability and heightened the threat of Islamist armed militants on the country’s eastern flank, where Algeria’s oil and gas operations are most concentrated. Furthermore, instability in Northern Mali became an additional source of insecurity. The vast porous borders – imaginary lines in the sand – and the inherent weakness of bordering states in the region create an ideal operating environment for armed groups. This helps both explain Algeria’s push for a political solution in Mali as well as its harsh response at home.

The attack on the gas installation itself constitutes a first in the country’s history. These were largely untouched during the instability of the 1990s. The country’s economy is largely based on its oil and gas exports, which account for over 90% of all exports. The In Amenas installation itself accounts for 10% of Algeria’s gas production and nearly 20% of its exports, all in an economy dominated by the public sector. Thus the oil and gas exports are not only the backbone of the economy, but the pillar of political and social stability for the country. The militant attacked a core interest or as Dr. Geoff Porter put it: ‘the golden goose that keeps the regime’In this light, the Algerian overwhelming response should be regarded as clear message to both militants and outside powers.

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible. Early reports indicate the use of embedded operatives by the militants to gain strategic intelligence inside the plant and the whereabouts of foreign employees. One Algerian employee reported that the militant knew their way around and had even known about a planned strike.

How this will affect Algeria’s stance on the Mali conflict? Past behaviour and the current policy points towards a more ‘hunker-down bunker-up’ Algerian response. The Algerian government is maintaining its usual silence, but greater involvement cannot be ruled out. Reports show the Algerian Air force has been put on standby, and additional troops have been dispatched towards the Malian border.


Photo credit: Magharebia

Germany Won’t Fight

France has intervened in Mali to stop an assault of rebel forces from the north of the country. While Britain has supplied two transport aircraft to airlift equipment to the West African state, Germany initially remained hesitant. What is clear is that the country will not send combat forces, but will probably provide logistical, humanitarian and/or medical support. Comments from the governing coalition experts pointed towards a lack of consensus regarding what such help would entail. Nevertheless, Tuesday night it was reported that France and Germany are in negotiations to use German Transall aircraft and that a decision will be announced by Thursday.

Germany’s role during the war in Libya drew a lot of criticism from its partners. Hence, it was clear that Angela Merkel’s government would not be able to stay out of this conflict entirely. However, its reaction sticks to an established modus operandi. Germany has gotten rid of the highly moralized arguments that dominated the discussion about sending military forces abroad during the 1990s. The recent end of conscription went hand-in-hand with a hasty attempt to form a fully professional army. At the same time, do not expect that Germany will take such an active role again as it did in Afghanistan (some might beg to differ on the “active” part) in the near future. It will try using other measures (such as export of weapons and military equipment or supporting other countries in military campaigns where necessary) or only send troops where it can guarantee relative safety for its soldiers (Patriot rockets in Turkey).

During the red-green administration Joschka Fischer and Gerhard Schröder gave Germany an active foreign policy profile, taking a leading role on Kosovo for example. We cannot expect such an approach from Westerwelle and Merkel; their default mode for politics remains hesitation and low profile. In addition military interventions are largely unpopular in Germany and it is an election year.

Update: The German government announced today that it will indeed send two aircraft to support French operations. Merkel said that the “the terrorism in Mali is not only a threat to Africa but also to Europe”.


Photo Credit: fdecomite

L’Unione Africana E La Crisi In Mali

Mentre l’Unione Africana continua a radunare consensi e ad accrescere il suo potere nella lotta per la supremazia nell’area Sahariana, sembra inevitabile la formazione di un esercito indipendente, in grado di contrastare rapidamente le fazioni degli estremisti islamici.



Quando il Mali settentrionale è finito nelle mani del Movimento Nazionale per la Liberazione dell’Azawad (MNLA), sono stati pochi gli osservatori internazionali a prestare attenzione all’accaduto. Si è trattato di un evento relativamente minore rispetto al colpo di stato che ha avuto luogo nella vicina capitale, alla guerra civile in Libia e agli attacchi degli estremisti religiosi nella Nigeria settentrionale. Ciò nonostante, i riflettori sull’area si sono accesi nel momento in cui sono emersi contrasti all’interno delle forze che avevano dichiarato l’indipendenza dell’Azawad, e il MNLA è risultato sconfitto da fazioni di estremisti islamici.

La disfatta del MNLA, arrivata dopo che questi aveva già battuto l’esercito maliano, ha rappresentato il successo più importante ottenuto delle milizie degli estremisti islamici dalla vittoria sui talebani del 2001. Infatti, se i talebani afgani si stanno convertendo sempre più in una forza moderata, l’Iraq sta ritrovando un suo equilibrio, le forze moderate governano in Africa settentrionale, e le milizie di al-Shabaab in Somalia sembrano ormai quasi esanimi, vien da chiedersi quale soggetto abbia tratto beneficio da questa sconfitta. La risposta reca il nome di Ansar Dine e del Movimento per un’Unica Jihad nell’Africa Occidentale (MOJWA), affiliato ad Al Qaeda nel Maghreb Islamico (AQIM).

Poiché la sconfitta di al-Shabaab appare un’ipotesi sempre più prevedibile a seguito della creazione di un corridoio tra le forze dell’Unione Africana (UA) a Mogadiscio, e le aree sotto il controllo dell’UA, il Mali potrebbe costituire il prossimo fronte per la lotta contro le correnti fondamentaliste islamiche in Africa.

La vittoria del movimento jihadista, ottenuta in Africa Occidentale, ha presupposto la concomitanza una serie di eventi internazionali. Tra questi, va sicuramente considerato l’aumento degli attacchi militari nella Nigeria settentrionale, che ha implicato l’ascesa di una fazione politica e militare denominata Boko Haram. Non si tratta, pertanto, di un conflitto dai caratteri meramente nazionali.  La Nigeria, infatti, è una nazione di medio reddito, ed è un paese relativamente enorme per subire inerme questo tipo di attacchi e questa resistenza da parte di un gruppo ribelle. Non stiamo parlando dell’Afghanistan o dello Yemen, ma piuttosto di uno stato geograficamente ed economicamente simile al Messico, all’Egitto e alla Turchia (secondo le stime più recenti, la Nigeria registrerà la crescita economica più significativa, a livello globale, entro i prossimi quarant’anni). In aggiunta, la popolazione della Nigeria è più ampia, e il suo PIL più elevato, rispetto ai dati registrati dagli altri 14 membri della Comunità Economica degli Stati dell’Africa Occidentale (ECOWAS) a livello aggregato. Per questa serie di ragioni non si può sottovalutare la crescita di Boko Haram avvenuta nel corso degli ultimi dieci anni.

Dopo una decade di crescita, i militanti jihadisti dell’Africa Occidentale attendevano solamente l’occasione propizia per sferrare offensive militari di un certo calibro. Tale occasione è giunta a seguito della Primavera araba. Mentre la Libia soccombeva al caos, decine di islamisti si sono arruolati nelle truppe delle tribù orientali e liberali per prendere parte alle campagne contro Gheddafi. Man mano che il conflitto proseguiva, i suddetti infiltrati si sono muniti dei  migliori armamenti. Infine, dopo l’uccisione di Gheddafi, la vittoria elettorale delle forze liberali in Libia e la conseguente smilitarizzazione, i militanti jihadisti si sono spinti dapprima in Algeria, e in seguito lungo il confine con il Mali.

Il MNLA ha beneficiato moltissimo di questo afflusso di militanti. Sebbene questi combattenti siano stati assorbiti soprattutto tra i ranghi degli estremisti dell’Ansar Dine e del MOJWA, e non dai Tuareg nazionalisti, i tre gruppi costituiscono il pericolo maggiore per l’esercito maliano. Infatti, a seguito della rivolta tuareg, avvenuta tra gennaio e marzo scorso, l’ormai logoro esercito maliano rovesciò il governo e sospese la costituzione. Poco tempo dopo il MNLA ottenne il controllo del nord del paese per essere poi tradito e sconfitto dagli alleati islamisti. Al momento il paese risulta diviso tra un nuovo governo transnazionale e gli affiliati dell’AQIM. La situazione attuale, quindi, è estremamente favorevole allo sviluppo dell’Islam estremista. I gruppi militanti, devoti ad un’interpretazione violenta della Sharia, si dedicano ad assediare aree lacerate dai conflitti, dove è più semplice reclutare uomini privati dei propri diritti, e lo stato si rivela incapace di detenere il monopolio della violenza. Ad ogni modo, nell’ultima decade l’Africa ha iniziato ad organizzarsi per far fronte a questa minaccia in continua espansione. A differenza dell’Afganistan, dove la mancanza di una potenza regionale ha implicato il coinvolgimento dell’alleanza occidentale della NATO, l’UA sta intervenendo gradualmente con l’obiettivo di evitare una disgregazione regionale per la quale gli stati interessati perderebbero il controllo dei relativi territori. In Somalia, le forze dell’UA detengono il controllo della capitale e continuano a demolire i centri di potere di al-Shabaab. Nel Mali l’ECOWAS sta agendo in supporto dell’UA, dopo la decisione di dispiegare 3.300 soldati nelle regioni settentrionali contro gli affiliati di AQIM. Il piano prevede una missione della durata di sei mesi, a partire da dicembre, con l’obiettivo di stabilire delle basi nel sud del paese, per poi procedere verso nord e il confine con l’Algeria, che a sua volta si asterrà dalle operazioni. L’Unione Europea, storico sostenitore dell’UA, si sta a sua volta organizzando per inviare centinaia di consiglieri militari, con la precipua funzione di ristabilire l’efficienza dell’esercito maliano.

L’UA sta seguendo il modello adottato dalla NATO nel periodo successivo alla guerra fredda, il quale contemplava la salvaguardia della sicurezza attraverso l’ordine. I cosiddetti “stati falliti”, in altre parole quegli stati in cui non vige un governo in grado di detenere il controllo dell’intero territorio e del monopolio della violenza, non possono essere ignorati, in quanto rappresentano dei veri e propri focolai di destabilizzazione regionale. Come la NATO e l’UE intervennero al momento del collasso dello stato iugoslavo, allo stesso modo l’UA agisce laddove i militanti islamici lottano per il controllo del territorio. Se l’intervento dell’ECOWAS nel Mali dovesse aver successo, dovremmo attenderci l’utilizzo di ulteriori forze di peacekeeping nella Nigeria settentrionale e nella Libia meridionale, in modo da contenere eventuali tensioni.

Qualsiasi resistenza all’azione militare dell’Unione Africana potrebbe essere giustificata solo per mere ragioni di reputazione: infatti, accettare la stessa implicherebbe ammettere l’incapacità di difendersi con i propri mezzi. Sia il Mali e che la Somalia non possono più permettersi tali considerazioni, diversamente da Libia, Nigeria e Sudan meridionale. In sostanza, la minaccia dell’estremismo islamico rappresenta un pericolo così rilevante da sollecitare l’intervento di tutti gli attori regionali, in favore di altri stati, una volta che la necessità di sopravvivenza di questi ultimi precede qualsiasi altra considerazione.

Molti ritengono che la guerra contro l’estremismo islamico sia una questione che riguardi prevalentemente gli Stati Uniti. Credere a tale ipotesi implica accettare l’idea che, il contesto nel quale il conflitto si sviluppa, sia quello contro i malefici imperialisti americani, rendendo ancora più semplice il reclutamento. In realtà, si tratta di una questione globale. La Russia si scontra spesso con gli islamisti nel Caucaso. Il Pakistan nelle regioni federali, la Cina nello Xinjiang, l’Egitto nella penisola del Sinai, l’Indonesia ad Aceh, la Turchia nella zona curda, l’India nel Kashmir, le Filippine nel Bangsaromo. Ogni regione confinante con il mondo islamico deve contrastare gli estremisti che sono visti come minaccia alla propria sicurezza, al proprio potere e ai diritti umani. Il problema principale della lotta al terrorismo, così come concepita dagli Stati Uniti, ha riguardato l’utilizzo unilaterale della forza, in Iraq come in Afghanistan. D’altra parte, l’UA ha perseguito una strategia multilaterale in tale lotta, coinvolgendo l’UE, l’ONU e le forze locali. Una strategia che è stata recentemente adottata anche in Afganistan, sebbene con grave ritardo.

Contestualmente allo sviluppo economico dell’Africa, che sottende ad un ruolo sempre più importante dei propri attori nazionali nell’arena internazionale, la sua battaglia contro l’Islam radicale acquisirà sempre più rilevanza. Una delle questioni che continueranno ad essere cruciali interesserà l’aumento della forza militare dell’UA, che si sta progressivamente trasformando in una forza militare permanente. Così come l’UE è stata richiamata alla coesione a causa della crisi economica, l’Unione Africana è costretta a combattere in maniera altrettanto unita contro i militanti islamici. Entrambe le potenze internazionali possono essere l’emblema di un allontanamento dalla concezione degli stati nazionali, verso amministrazioni internazionali multilaterali dotate di eserciti indipendenti, e particolarmente attente a preservare la stabilità politica. La natura di queste stesse potenze risulterà più liberale degli stati stessi, e pertanto la crescita del consenso pubblico sui diritti umani sarà in totale contrasto con la militanza islamica estremista.

Sembra inevitabile, di conseguenza,  la formazione di un esercito indipendente in seno all’Unione Africana, in grado di contrastare repentinamente fazioni come quelle di AQIM. L’Unione Europea opera già in Africa centrale in ottemperanza alla politica europea di sicurezza e difesa. Le operazioni militari che si svolgono sotto il vessillo dell’UA e dell’UE sembrano destinate ad ampliarsi, avallate dalla legittimità internazionale. Nel frattempo, sarà la stessa caratteristica violenta dell’Islam a tagliar fuori gli estremisti dalle dinamiche internazionali.


Articolo tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: The African Union & The Mali Crisis

Photo Credit: zeepkist

The African Union & The Mali Crisis

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against extreme Islamist factions may become an inevitability.



When northern Mali fell to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), few international observers took note. It was a relatively small event compared to the nearby coup d’etat in the capital, the Libyan civil war and the religious extremist attacks of northern Nigeria. However, when cracks began to form between the forces which had announced Azawad a free state and the MNLA was routed by extreme Islamist factions, heads began to turn.

The defeat of the MNLA, after they had already defeated the Malian army, has been the most significant success by extremist Islamist forces since the Taliban was defeated in 2001. Afghanistan’s Taliban is turning to political moderation, Iraq is calming, moderates rule in northern Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia is breathing its last breaths. The victors? Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), affiliates of the North-African Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

With the defeat of al-Shabaab in Somalia almost becoming a forgone conclusion after a corridor was created between African Union (AU) forces in Mogadishu and the other AU-controlled areas, Mali could be the next great front against violent Islamism in Africa.

The victory in West Africa has been a long time coming, and required a series of international events to come about. Increasing militant attacks in northern Nigeria has developed a strong and growing political and military block in the form of Boko Haram. This cannot be waved off as just another conflict in another state. Nigeria is a middle-income and relatively huge state to be facing such attacks and such strong resistance from a rebel group. This isn’t Afghanistan or Yemen, it’s a state listed in a peer group involving Mexico, Egypt and Turkey and is predicted to have the largest GDP growth in the world over the next forty years. It is larger in population and economy than all 14 other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members put together. The ten-year long growth of Boko Haram cannot be underestimated.

After a decade rising, West African militants only needed one opening to begin serious military advances. This opening was the Arab Spring. As Libya collapsed into chaos many Islamists joined the ranks of eastern tribes and liberals in the campaign against Gaddafi. As the conflict dragged on they became better armed and hardened by the long conflict. When Gaddafi was killed however it was liberals who won the parliament and action began to disarm the various militia groups, only increasing in the wake of the recent Benghazi attacks. So the militants moved on, across the border into Algeria and then Mali.

The MNLA benefited greatly from this influx of militants. But the fighters were absorbed into the extremist Ansar Dine and MOJWA, not the Tuareg nationalists, the three together forming a major challenge to the Mali military. The Tuareg rebellion began to make serious strides in January and by March the frustrated military overthrew the government and suspended the constitution. Shortly after the MNLA seized control of the country’s North only to be almost immediately betrayed and routed by its Islamist allies. Now the country is divided between the new transitional government and the AQIM affiliates. Extremist Islam breeds in these situations. Extreme militant groups dedicated to a brutal interpretation of Sharia law capture areas already torn by strife, where young disenfranchised men are common and where the state is unable to maintain a monopoly on violence. However, over the past decade Africa has begun to organise itself to face this ever-growing threat. Unlike in Afghanistan where a complete lack of regional power structures necessitated the involvement of the Western alliance of NATO, the AU is increasingly stepping in to avoid regional disintegration when states lose control of their territory. In Somalia AU forces control the capital and continue to demolish al-Shabaab’s power centres. In Mali the ECOWAS is acting with the support of the AU to deploy 3,300 troops against the AQIM affiliates in the north. The plan is a six-month mission from December to June establishing bases in the south and then fighting towards the north and the border with Algeria, a power which is refusing to take part. The EU, a long time ally of the AU, is organising sending hundreds of military advisers to help the Mali military back to its feet.

The AU is following the post-Cold War NATO model of security through order. Failed states where there is no government capable of controlling the full territory and monopolising violence are too dangerous a threat to ignore and more than capable of distabilising whole regions. Just like NATO and the EU stepped in to the collapsing Yugoslav state, so to is the AU stepping in where Islamic militants manage to wrest control of territory. If the ECOWAS intervention in Mali succeeds, expect to see further peacekeeping forces sent in to Northern Nigeria and southern Libya should the situations there worsen.

Any resistance to AU involvement in military affairs is entirely reputational, to accept military assistance is to admit to being unable to survive alone. Mali and Somalia have both crossed the limits where such admittance is long past, whereas Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan have not. This is what the threat of extremist Islam represents, a threat so great that all regional actors are willing to step in to states which are not their own once the pride of those states is overwhelmed by a desperate need to survive.

Many believe, after the much focused upon War on Terror, that the war against extremist Islam is a predominantly US affair. To believe such is to accept the Islamist framing of the conflict, one far easier to recruit for when regarded as a battle against the evil American imperialists. In fact it is a global affair. Russia frequently clashes with Islamists in the Caucasus. Pakistan does so in the federal regions, China in Xinjiang, Egypt in the Sinai peninsula, Indonesia in Aceh, Turkey in Kurdish areas, India in Kashmir, the Philippines in Bangsaromo. Any region bordering the Islamic world faces extremists as a threat to security, power and human rights. The reason that the US War on Terror is so focused upon is largely due to the unilateral use of force in states far away and strange to them. Where the AU succeeds with the help of EU and UN allies is in a multilateral engagement using local forces. This is a technique only recently turned to in Afghanistan and possibly too late.

As Africa continues to develop and some of its nations rise towards global prominence we will hear much more of its battle with violent Islamism. One of the issues which will develop is the growing strength of AU military forces which are undergoing a transition to a permanent AU force rather than than loose coalitions formed by constituent state militaries. Just as the EU is being forced closer by economic crisis, so to is the AU being forced together by Islamic militancy. Both international powers may well together signify a shift away from the nation states of European empires and towards multilateral international governments with independent militaries and a dedication to stability at all costs. By their very nature these powers will be more liberal than the nation states they emerge from and so develop a human rights consensus completely at odds to extreme Islamic militancy.

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against factions such as AQIM may become an inevitability. The EU already operates across central Africa with its independent CSDP. Operations under the flags of the AU and EU seem only set to expand with the legitimacy that such allied enterprises provide. By their violent dedication to the crescent, extreme Islamists may well be manufacturing the international order which will snuff them out.


Photo credit: zeepkist