peter tinti

politics, culture and security in west africa

Category: france

As Security Focus on Niger Grows, U.S.-France Tensions Brew: Part II

World Politics Review

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part investigative series on U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in Niger. Part I examines Niger’s emergence as a target of terrorist groups active in the Sahel region. Part II will examine the growing U.S. security presence in Niger, and the nascent tensions with France over how best to counter terror and bolster Niger’s security.

Though much has been made of Niger’s recent ascendance as a key U.S. ally in the Sahel region, the country had already begun to distinguish itself as a useful counterterrorism ally in Department of Defense circles as early as 2006. However, political issues, namely a constitutional crisis in 2009 and a military coup in 2010, complicated the relationship. Once elections were held and Niger’s democracy was restored in 2011, the U.S. was eager to “re-normalize” relations and expand cooperation.

Further impetus to deepen security ties was added by the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011—which drove an estimated 200,000 Nigeriens living in Libya, many of whom were armed fighters, back to Niger—as well as the ensuing collapse of Mali in 2012.

The U.S. and Niger signed a status of forces agreement, which had been in the works since 2007, in January 2013, after which U.S. military activities in the country significantly increased.

In February, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would be sending about 100 troops to Niger. Their mission, according to a U.S. Africa Command spokesperson reached by email, is to provide support “for intelligence collection and facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.”

However, one U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the number of U.S. military personnel, some of whom might be contractors, is “almost certainly” higher than 100. Several sources, including Nigeriens and outside analysts in Niger, described the U.S. military presence as “palpable,” “very visible” and “obvious.” In February, the U.S. also began flying an unspecified number of unarmed Predator drones out of the national airport in the capital, Niamey.

Click here to continue reading.

As Security Focus on Niger Grows, U.S.-France Tensions Brew: Part I

World Politics Review

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part investigative series on U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in Niger. Part I examines Niger’s emergence as a target of terrorist groups active in the Sahel region. Part II will examine the growing U.S. security presence in Niger, and the nascent tensions with France over how best to counter terror and bolster Niger’s security.

Until May 23, Niger, a desperately poor, landlocked country of 17 million that shares long borders with volatile states including Mali, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria, had been spared from the violence that has plagued its neighbors over the past two years. But when Islamist militants launched simultaneous attacks in the country’s north, killing 26 and injuring dozens more, Niger suddenly found itself fighting battles at home that it had hoped others would fight abroad.

The coordinated attacks, which included armed gunmen and suicide bombers detonating two car bombs, targeted a military camp in the desert city of Agadez and a French-operated uranium mine in the remote town of Arlit.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, an al-Qaida offshoot known locally as Mujao, claimed responsibility for both attacks. An online statement reportedly signed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian national and veteran jihadi who led the deadly attack on the In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria last January, claimed that he “supervised” the attack on Arlit in conjunction with Mujao.

Nine days later, 22 inmates, some of whom are linked to terrorist groups, escaped after Islamist gunmen attacked a prison in the capital city, Niamey. Though the prison raid was initially attributed to Mujao, suspicion quickly turned to Boko Haram, an Islamist sect based out of Nigeria that has been at the forefront of bloody, intercommunal violence in northern Nigeria.

Click here to continue reading.

After war and two elections, Mali has a president

CS Monitor

Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita wins runoff, paving the way for $4 billion in aid.

Bamako, Mali: Malians weary of war and two rounds of elections sighed with relief Tuesday night when it was announced early that they had a president. The former finance minister, Soumaila Cisse, conceded defeat to the former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, despite some qualms.

Mr. Cisse had charged voter irregularity in the hours after Sunday’s runoff vote. But Mr. Keita’s lead was so great in the initial polling that he decided not to contest the outcome and instead visited the winner’s home last evening — and later today announced that he was creating Mali’s first serious opposition party.

That now leaves the West African country with Keita as president, a tough veteran and member of the political elite who is known in Mali as “IBK.”

Keita is regarded as a wily negotiator, a friend of the military, and the choice of the French, the former colonial power, whose troops entered Mali in January to stop the advance of radical Islamist forces at the invitation of the acting Mali government.

Keita was the favorite to win after scoring more than twice the percentage of votes, 40 percent, than did Cisse, who came in at 19 percent. Under Mali election rules (as in France), a runoff is held unless one candidate wins an outright majority.

Last evening, French President François Hollande phoned Keita to congratulate him.

The clear victory also now opens the path for some $4 billion in aid that was tied by donor nations to the completion of fair elections.

A US State Department spokesperson said the elections meant the US government would begin to “normalize our foreign assistance to Mali,” along with more than 100 other states that attended a pledge meeting in May.

Click here to continue reading.

Malians grateful to put elections behind them, after a coup and war

CS Monitor

A runoff vote for president on Sunday saw torrential rains, mud, and long lines in Bamako. But the vote was peaceful and orderly.

Bamako, Mali: Ballot-counting is under way in Mali after voters took to the polls Sunday in the final round of presidential elections that are widely seen as a first step to rebuilding the war-torn West African nation.

Mali forged ahead July 28 with a first round of elections despite calls for a delay by some local politicians and several prominent international NGOs that said it was too early. In January Mali saw a French-led war against Islamic radicals that itself followed a military coup last year.

The July vote saw a record turnout but not an outright majority winner, setting the stage for a runoff between former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumalia Cissé.

Yesterday’s vote was orderly and peaceful. In the morning, Malians in Bamako braved torrential downpours in the early morning to cast their votes. In muddy courtyards throughout the city, long lines seemed to favor male voters but represented a mix of Mali’s diverse population.

Most women, many with a child in tow, wore new, colorful wax-print outfits purchased for the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Other women dressed in all black with their faces veiled by a niqab, a growing trend among women in some neighborhoods. Businessmen in suits stood next to men in flowing traditional robes, rubbing elbows with youth in skinny jeans and fashionably tight t-shirts.

Results are expected to be finalized as early as Wednesday.

Click here to continue reading.

Battered Mali will vote again Aug. 11 as two veterans face off

CS Monitor

Western nations have linked the elections – which follow Mali’s brief war to oust Islamic militants in the north – to $4 billion in assistance.

Bamako, Mali: Mali’s first elections after French troops arrived in January to drive out Islamic radicals did not yield a first-round winner. The West African nation will put together a runoff vote on Aug. 11.

The two contenders for Mali’s top job, neither of whom received a clear majority of votes, are Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former prime minister, and Soumaila Cissé, the former finance minister.

The United Nations has called the elections – the first since the brief war with radical Islamists, and the first for president since a coup toppled Mali’s twice-elected government in March 2012 – a critical first step in putting the war-torn county back together. They also linked them to the release of $4 billion in aid.

Mr. Keita, known locally by his initials, IBK, and who is rumored to be the preferred choice among some French and international diplomats, secured 39 percent of the first-round vote on July 28, which saw a record turnout of 51 percent.

Mr. Cissé, a veteran political insider who has run for president before and has served as head of the West African Monetary Union, took 19 percent. Both men are firmly entrenched in Mali’s often-maligned political class.

The announcement of the totals eased tensions in the capital of Bamako, which had grown steadily last week after Col. Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration, held a chaotic press conference stating that Keita was likely to win the first round outright.

When only a third of the votes had been counted, several news outlets began reporting a Keita victory as all but inevitable.

Click here to continue reading.

Mali rivals to face off in presidential vote

Al Jazeera

Former prime minister and former finance minister will go head-to-head in second round.

Bamako, Mali - Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will face former finance minister Soumaila Cissé in an August 11 run-off after failing to win Mali’s presidential election in the first round.

The provisional results round off a week which saw Malians voting for their first president since a coup toppled the twice-elected government in March 2012. Despite lingering security concerns and complaints over a flawed voter registration process, government figures suggest a turnout of 51.54 percent, shattering Mali’s previous record high of 38 percent.

Keita, known locally by his initials, IBK, garnered 39.23 of the first round vote, falling short of the 50 percent needed to win outright. He was, however, well ahead of Cissé, who secured 19.44 percent, said Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration.

Friday’s results should help ease tensions after Coulibaly told reporters on Tuesday, before vote-counting had finished, that Keita may exceed the 50 percent threshold. In a chaotic press conference, the minister said that, with one-third of votes counted, Keita held a wide lead over the 27-candidate field.

Click here to continue reading.

Election turnout high in Mali on the heels of war and French-led intervention

CS Monitor

Final results may be known as early as tomorrow, as Malians shrug off a coup and chaos and vote with new ‘biometric’ cards.

Bamako, Mali: Still recovering from a radical Islamist insurgency months ago, Mali plunged ahead Sunday with elections that France and the United States had called for as a condition to release some $4 billion in aid.

Ballot counting is now under way after voters in the West African country turned out in unusually large numbers yesterday, with an outcome expected as early as tomorrow.

These presidential elections come 16 months after a military coup in Mali and six months after a French-led military intervention to liberate the desert north from rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda.

Yesterday’s vote is seen as a critical first step for a poor, landlocked country once wrongly considered a model of democracy. And the vote came amid concerns by local officials and several prominent international NGOs that hastily planned elections might further destabilize an already divided nation.

Others warned elections might put civilians at risk of attack from armed rebel groups in the north.

In the neighborhood of Lafiabougou, in the capital Bamako, lines had formed before polls had opened.

At a separate polling station across town in Hippodrome, a steady stream of voters arrived late into the evening.

APEM, a network of 2,100 Malian election observers, said that 96 percent of polling stations had opened on time and that turnout was “high.” Polls closed without reports of any major incidents.

Click here to continue reading.

Mali Holds Elections After Year of Turmoil

New York Times

Under pressure from France and other Western powers, Mali held a presidential election on Sunday that some observers said the country was not ready for and that risked excluding thousands of its citizens.

Voting went off peacefully, nonetheless, in an election that Mali’s numerous donors deemed crucial to restoring the country’s stability after more than a year of turmoil: an Islamist takeover in the desert north in the spring of 2012; a military coup in the capital; French military intervention to forestall Islamist advances in January; and the flight of nearly 200,000 inhabitants beyond Mali’s borders.

Mali, a poor West African desert nation, has been ruled by a makeshift, unelected government since March 2012, with no parliament, few functioning state institutions and a weak, military junta-approved president. Billions of dollars in aid have been promised by international donors but only if the country has at least the appearance of democracy. That meant proceeding to a hasty election that some of the country’s politicians, research institutes like International Crisis Group, and even the country’s electoral commission warned might be premature.

Still, all over Bamako, the capital, on Sunday, long, orderly lines formed, and citizens dipped their fingers in dye to show that they had voted. Many suggested that, however imperfect, the election would put an end to months of uncertainty.

Click here to continue reading.

High turnout in Mali’s first election since coup

The Independent

As Malians go to the polls, hopes are high the election will bring a better future.

Bamako, Mali – The West African nation of Mali voted in presidential elections on Sunday just 16 months after the country descended into chaos in the wake of a coup led by mid-ranking army officials.

Sunday’s polls are seen as an essential first step for a country once considered a model of democracy, and come just six months after France intervened to liberate northern Mali, a vast desert expanse that fell under the control of rebel groups linked to al-Qa’ida.

The run-up to the elections saw several of the 27 presidential candidates barnstorming across the country, filling local stadiums along the way.

Despite calls for a delay by some local politicians and several prominent international NGOs, Mali forged ahead with elections that the international community, particularly the US and France, had been calling for as a condition to releasing nearly $4bn dollars in pledged aid and assistance.

Yesterday, Malians went to the polls in large numbers. The election observers said in a statement that 96 per cent of polling stations had opened on time and turnout was “high”, without giving further details. Unless a candidate garners more than 50 per cent of the votes outright – an outcome that most observers see as unlikely – a second round run-off will follow on 11 August.

Click here to continue reading.

 

 

Mali votes: Views from street

Al Jazeera

As Malians go to the polls, hopes are high the election will bring a better future.

Bamako, Mali - The West African nation of Mali is holding presidential elections on Sunday, in what many see as a crucial first step to stabilising a country rocked by 16 months of war and political turmoil.

The vote takes place amid lingering security concerns and a chaotic voter registration process, prompting many to question if Mali is ready to hold free and fair elections.

Some commentators fear a rushed vote may risk further destabilising an already divided nation. Despite calls for a delay by groups such as the International Crisis Group and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Mali’s interim government and the international community are determined to go forward with the vote, as $4bn in reconstruction and development assistance is on hold until Mali elects a government deemed legitimate by the international community.

At the centre of the debate are biometric identification cards known by their local acronym, NINA. Mali’s electoral officials and their international counterparts claim that more than 80 percent of the 6.8 million cards have been distributed, a number widely disputed locally.

Click here to continue reading.

Mali has war in January, elections in July. Is this too much?

CS Monitor

Malians vote Sunday with new biometric ID cards in a quickly cobbled-together election that some call ‘shambolic’ and others say is needed.

Bamako, Mali: The West African nation of Mali will hold presidential elections this Sunday, less than seven months after the French military intervened to drive Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda in the country’s north.

The West African nation of Mali will hold presidential elections this Sunday, less than seven months after the French military intervened to drive Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda in the country’s north.

As Malians prepare to go to the polls, however, a chaotic voter-registration process and lingering security concerns call into question whether the elections will be truly free and fair.

Mali’s interim government and the international community are betting that expedited elections that they have both pushed will help Mali move forward after nearly 18 months of instability.

Speaking to reporters in Paris earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went so far as to say, “The results, even if the election is imperfect, must be respected by all parties.”

With Mali and the broader Sahel increasingly viewed as a place where Al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as drug traffickers, may try to take advantage of porous borders and weak states, Mali stands as a test case for the international community’s commitment to the region.

Yet many commentators fear that rushed elections risk further destabilizing an already divided nation, and worry that the international community, particularly France and the United States, are favoring elections and the appearance of democracy over stability and good governance.

One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the elections as a “calculated gamble,” suggesting that delaying the vote would “do little to fix any of the current problems and would potentially pave the way for new ones.”

Click here to continue reading.

Meet the Waraba Battalion

The Wall Street Journal

The EU’s military-training mission in Mali graduates its first unit.

Koulikoro, Mali: Capt. Ibrahim Soumassa is calm, though his unit has just sustained heavy casualties. “Last night, we received intelligence that jihadists infiltrated this village,” the Malian army officer explains to me. “But we drove them out and are in the process of securing the area.”

He points to a distant cliff, on which the silhouettes of his troops are seen against an overcast sky. “They are searching for snipers,” he says.

They won’t find any—not real ones at least. Here, in a dusty garrison town on the Niger River, 60 kilometers downstream from Bamako, the jihadists are fake and the casualties are simulated. Capt. Soumassa’s soldiers have been engaged in a training exercise put on by military instructors from the European Union.

“The goal,” Capt. Soumassa tells me, “is to prepare us for urban combat.” Recounting the steps he and his men took to secure the village, he betrays the studiousness of an overachiever. “This is what we will need to do in the North,” he says.

Click here to continue reading.

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.

Click here to continue reading.

Double bombing in Niger may have links to Algeria attack

CS Monitor

A note purporting to be from former Al Qaeda operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for bombings at military camp and uranium mine in Niger. Belmokhtar plotted deadly attacks on Western firms in Algeria, and was thought to be killed in early March.

Bamako, Mali - Islamist militants launched simultaneous attacks in Niger on Thursday, killing 26 people and injuring dozens more.

The coordinated attacks – which included armed gunmen and suicide bombers detonating two car bombs – targeted a military camp in the desert city of Agadez and a French-operated uranium mine in the remote town of Arlit.

The dual attacks come amid growing fear that the conflict in northern Mali, as well as Islamist insurgencies in Nigeria and southern Libya, could further destabilize the region. Until yesterday, Niger – a poor, landlocked country of 17 million – had largely been spared from the violence that has plagued its neighbors over the last year.

Click here to continue reading.

Peacekeeping force for unsettled Mali gets unanimous UN vote

CS Monitor

Resolution 2100 has French troops replaced by blue helmets and at least half the UN force will be from Africa. Al Qaeda-linked militants are still fighting in Mali’s northern mountains. 

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously approved the creation of a 12,600-strong peacekeeping force for Mali.

The pending arrival of blue helmets to the country is a sign that France, its African allies, and the broader international community are eager for the next phase of an intervention that began in January as a limited air campaign against Islamist rebels, but quickly escalated into a full-scale ground war.

Resolution 2100, proposed by France, calls for a force that would consist of 11,200 troops as well as 1,440 police to stabilize a country rocked by political instability and war over the last year.

Though the French-led intervention initially succeeded in driving the rebels from the towns and cities once under their control, serious questions remain regarding the extent to which northern Mali has actually been secured.

In the wake of several attacks – including suicide bombings – on Mali’s northern cities, both outside analysts and Malians wonder if the Islamist rebels have been defeated.

Click here to continue reading.