peter tinti

politics, culture and security in west africa

Category: algeria

US bounties changes strategy on West African jihadis

CS Monitor

The US is offering up to $23 million for information leading to the location of Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and Al Qaeda operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Bamako, Mali: The US is offering $23 million worth of rewards for information on key leaders of terrorist organizations in West Africa.

The list of Islamist militants – released yesterday by the US State Department’s “Reward for Justice” program – reads like a who’s-who of prominent jihadists responsible for a string of deadly attacks and high-profile kidnappings throughout North and West Africa in recent years.

The highest reward of up to $7 million is for information leading to the location of Abubakar Shekau, who leads the Nigeria-based Boko Haram group that has terrorized the northeast region of Nigeria.

The call for information marks the first time the US is offering cash in exchange for tips on leaders of Islamist groups in West Africa, and may suggest a shift in US thinking regarding the threat posed by Islamist militants in the region. Until recently, most analysts viewed terror cells in Africa as domestic groups with local agendas and few experts considered these groups a direct threat to the US.

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How the French got to airstrikes in Mali: A briefing from Bamako

CS Monitor

Five key questions about how Islamic militants took over northern Mali — and why the French are trying to stop them.

BAMAKO, MALI: French airstrikes in Mali last week have jolted the West’s attention. The strikes and more planned deployments by France and other African states, are designed to halt the progress of Islamist rebels in Mali, and deny radicals an Afghan-style haven for jihad against Europe. Journalist Peter Tinti has lived in West Africa for the last three years and arrived in Bamako today. Here’s his first briefer from the capital.

How did this crisis start?

It started when armed groups took over northern Mali – a vast desert expanse roughly the size of Texas – last year. Prominent among the groups are Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda who wish to establish a strict and violent version of Islamic law in the region.

Armed conflict and food shortages have driven more than 400,000 people from their home. The rising fear is that the conflict could destabilize the region, creating an ungoverned space and haven to launch terror attacks abroad.

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Thinking About Algeria and Mali

Bamako, Mali: My most recent piece for Think Africa Press argued that choosing the right analytical approach is paramount when thinking about Algeria’s northern Mali policies:

As noted by Alexis Arieff, Algeria’s policy- and decision-making processes are characterised by opacity, especially in the security realm. Divergent interests among different players – which might include at any given time the presidency, military, state intelligence services, various ministries, the Algerian legislature, local government entities and informal actors – all play a role in shaping and even implementing foreign policy.

This lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible for those on the outside to be sure they have a clear understanding of how Algeria defines its interests. The allure of theories that focus on the state intelligence services and its ties to actors in northern Mali rests on their ability to offer a false parsimony. But what seems like an untangling of a complex reality is really a selective connecting of convenient dots. Some of these accounts may have merit, but scholarship grounded in anonymous sources, circular citations and tautology cannot be engaged or acted upon in any meaningful way.

A more effective approach, and one sure to be less gratifying for those in search of concise answers to complex questions, would be to view Algeria’s past behaviour and current posture in realist terms. That the Algerian regime is a repressive one, and that elements within it have demonstrated a willingness to employ ruthless violence on a large scale, does not disqualify it from having legitimate security interests, nor does it preclude Algeria from defining these interests in ways that might resemble those of less perplexing nation-states.

Readers who appreciate this approach and want to dig deeper on Algeria would do well to check out The Moor Next Door. Kal’s analyses of Algerian foreign policy and Islamist militant groups in northern Mali are always thought-provoking. Whereas my writing lives in a world of concision and word counts, Kal takes full advantage of his platform and the depth of his expertise to examine just about every angle dispassionately. I certainly value his learned insight, but for me, it is Kal’s approach to thinking about Algeria and northern Mali that makes The Moor Next Door required reading.

Understanding Algeria’s Northern Mali Policy

Think Africa Press

After years of calling for greater military action in northern Mali, Algeria is now advocating a negotiated solution. Why the apparent change the heart?

Bamako, Mali: The whispers out of high-level meetings and shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks suggest an emerging consensus that some form of military intervention will be needed to retake northern Mali from the militant Islamist groups that now control the area. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is seekinga Chapter VII intervention mandate from the UN Security Council, and France has called for the immediate passage of such a resolution.

The United States, having maintained for months that democratic elections should precede any military action, has warmed to the idea of an African-led military intervention so long as it is “well planned”, “well resourced” and “has the support of all states in the region”, including those who are not ECOWAS members.

The last caveat is particularly crucial as Mali’s northern neighbour Algeria continues to call for a negotiated solution to the crisis. Aside from rejecting the idea of the creation of a new state, questions remain regarding the parameters of what Algeria considers an acceptable result in northern Mali. These questions are far from peripheral. Recent history and present imperatives suggest that Algeria will be active – either unilaterally or within an international framework – in shaping security outcomes in the region. As researcher Wolfram Lacher highlights, the challenge for the international community is to integrate Algeria into whatever mechanisms – political and military – that are used to put Mali back together.

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