WRITTEN BY CHRISS W. STREET
The four-day Algerian hostage crisis ended with the death of another 23 foreign hostages, bringing the total foreign dead to 53, and all the Salafist-jihadi kidnappers after Algerian special forces blasted their way into the sprawling Tigantourine gas complex and indiscriminately killed everyone in sight. In 2000, Algeria won a brutal decade long Civil War against Islamic Salafist rebel groups, which cost as many as 200,000 lives in the relatively small nation. Algeria is willing to suffer the rebuke of foreign governments over the loss of hostages, because they understand that the European and American intervention in neighboring Mali is the start of a war of attrition that with al-Qaeda that will spread across all of North Africa.
In July 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy heightened awareness of Al-Qeada in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by declaring war on the group, and AQIM reciprocated by declaring war on France. As outlined in my recent report, New Islamic Caliphate Challenges Western Crusaders, the kidnappers are imbued with dreams of reviving the glory days of the 11th century when Berbers launched Islamist revivalism in the Sahara and marched northward to conquer the North African coast and most of what is now Spain. The group seeks to cleanse North Africa their colonial master in France and the Americans who have armed their enemies.
AQIM has staged a series of kidnappings against European employees of multinational corporations that have resulted in some big ransom payoffs, some hostage deaths, and successful prisoner swaps. The tens of millions resulting from revenue generated by kidnap operations allowed AQIM leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar to buy a .50 caliber anti-aircraft heavy machine gunsthat gave AQIM the power to defeat the Mali army on the ground and neutralize the Mali air force in the sky. The ferociousness of the Islamist offensive to overrun Mali, a country the size of France and Spain combined offensive, shocked all its neighbors. But AQIM’s real goals are not to just conquer Mali; they sought and now have accomplished enticing Africa’s former colonial masters into a protracted war of attrition across the continent.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Western Powers to join the war by sending financial and logistical support to 2000 Mali soldiers; 2300 French troops; and 5700 allied soldiers from Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal. French Mirage war planes and Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters have been bombing and strafing Mali Islamists for over a week to prevent the last quarter of the country from falling into the hands of the rebels. The United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Germany, Denmark and Belgium pledged transport aircraft to fly equipment into Mali.
AQIM has abandoned large-scale offensive and are assimilating among the indigenous population to use their superior knowledge of the terrain and guerrilla tactics to inflict casualties on their enemies. According to Stratfor Reports, the Jihadists:
“until now have been able to employ highly mobile formations of roughly company-sized units using trucks with mounted weapons — and also armed with assault rifles, heavy machine guns — and light to medium mortars and rockets. These jihadist formations succeeded against a demoralized and ill-equipped Malian force with negligible air support. The jihadists are fully aware, however, that their formations are highly vulnerable against a French force that can mass enormous firepower, especially when supported by air power.
A military coup in March led by American trained “Captain Sanogo” overthrew Mali President Toure. The speed of the advances by AQIM backed rebels had demoralized the army and created a humanitarian crisis involving 800,000 refugees. Sanogo was part of six “training missions,” conducted by U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton from 1989 to 2000. Over that period, the U.S. invested $1 billion in military training into Mali.
For centuries, AQIM’s 1.5 million member Sharan Tuareg tribe allies have survived in the Sahara region by controlling trade in ivory, gold, salt and slaves. They fiercely resisted French colonialism demand independence. But as Stefan Simanowitz wrote:
“A key reason that the governments in Mali and Niger are not keen to give the Tuareg greater autonomy is that the areas that they inhabit are home to vast natural resources… [with] the world’s third largest uranium reserves as well as substantial oil reserves.”
Nuclear power supplies over 75 percent of France’s electricity and allows the country to be the world largest net exporter of electricity, with 3 billion euros in annual revenue. Most of the uranium to fuel the nuclear reactors comes from Mali, so France has much to lose if AQIM gains power and ejects French interests. But the military intervention is already being heavily criticized by former French Prime Minister Villepin. He complains the intervention is “ill thought-out” and “This unanimous enthusiasm for war, the haste with which we are doing it, and the deja-vu of ‘war on terror’ worries me.”
Algeria understands that the Islamist strategy is to bleed and wear down the French and their allies over the long-term in order to reinstate an Islamic Caliphate that lasted for almost 800 years. France, the United States and Europe will find it much easier to get into a fight with these Salafist Islamic warriors, than ever getting out a winner.
CHRISS STREET & PAUL PRESTON
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