Evidently, the United States blindness to foreign affairs goes on. And to the extent that it is paying attention, it’s keeps getting it wrong. After killing of Osama bin-Laden, the Administration claimed al-Qaeda was decimated.Not surprisingly, it is reluctant to account to the events leading up to and during al-Qaeda’s affiliates attack in Benghazi. Even when faced with the creation of a vast safe haven for Islamic terrorists in the Maghreb, Sahel, and parts of West Africa per se, indeed “the resurgence of al Qaeda,” and when Americans are kidnapped in Algeria, our administration says very little and very late. Even then, it talks out of both sides of its mouth about supporting our NATO allies Britain and France, then leaks legalisms as to why we can’t, for instance, help the French out in Mali.
North Africa, the Sahel, and West Africa have turned into a major Islamist arena for which we are in part responsible given the string of events that began before the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. In the best American diplomatic tradition, it failed to confront Qatar and Saudi Arabia on their unabated support for Islamists. Likewise, first hand accounts of Iran’s involvement with jihadist in Sudan, Kenya, South Sudan and Africa, are also discounted at our peril. In addition to immediate security concerns, the U.S. let the opportunities to benefit from the natural resources of this rich continent. It has been slipping away due to American lack of attention, or political correction dipped in the niceties of diplomatic decorum.
In his excellent, sobering piece “The Moveable Mali Front,”Roger Kaplan
begins with a couple of thoughts about the “retributive” kidnapping of BP employees in Algeria. Retributive – according to the kidnappers – a response to French military intervention in Mali, and Algeria’s allowing the French to project airpower out of Algeria. But the problems of Algeria and Mali are linked in innumerable ways, that mere European intervention is inadequate.Kaplan’s first observation is that Algeria ought not to be considered to have won its long war against Islamist terrorism after all. The In Amenas attack and kidnapping was the first time EVER an Algerian energy facility has been penetrated by terrorists. His second observation is more troubling. Because the perpetrators said that the attack was not just a warning to the French, but to Algeria as well, questions are being raised about factionalism in the Algerian government. Kaplan ponders,
“Are there factions within the Algerian government or military that want to send a message to Paris – or to Algiers? It is a terrible question, but it cannot be avoided if Algerians themselves are raising it. If nothing else, it is a warning to the French – and eventually to us – that forging practical counter-terror alliances in this part of the world is not like getting a pick-up game going on the playground.”
The bulk of Kaplan’s article is an open response to former U.S. Ambassador to Mali Vicki Huddleston’s January 14, New York Times op/ed urging the U.S. to save the country. While Kaplan and Huddleston agree that U.S. Intervention (in some form) should occur, Kaplan raises some interesting questions.
He points out that at least since the second Clinton administration, there has been “a succession of counter-terrorism initiatives, joint task forces, training and reconnaissance missions, special operations missions, and sustained campaigns in cooperation with friendly natives.” He asks what, then, happened during the G. W. Bush years when she was ambassador in Bamako:
“Was she paying attention to our military aid mission? Did she order any accountability reviews? Was she alarmed at the disproportionate number of generals who seemed to be in Bamako all the time instead of in the north, where Tuareg revolts are endemic? Did she recommend cutting off aid to Bamako if its cliquish politicians did not address the problems of the north, leaving it open to terrorists and traffickers?”
(Amb. Huddleston’s New York Times op/ed that Kaplan critiques, is posted below Item 2)Kaplan would have us ask similar questions of General Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM, who was apparently as unaware as Amb. Huddleston of the impending political and military crisis. Kaplan would know this given the period he spent imbedded with U.S. miltiary advisers in Mali.
Kaplan’s final point in this piece is that only the U.S. can re-supply the French and African troops fighting the jihadists in Mali. He pointedly suggests:
“Perhaps our policy leaders can send the bill to the Algerians, or the Qataris, or even the Saudis, all of whom are flush these days. The problem with the Middle Eastern sheikdoms is that although we give them – or sell them – advanced warplanes, they give, according to very good sources, funds to the very people we are trying to beat down.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial (“MIA in Mali” item 2) accuses the U.S. administration for talking out of both sides of its mouth on Mali. While Leon Panetta appears to offer the French the sort of assistance Kaplan urges, the White House has “scotched” any assistance at all. Among the “lousy not-for-attribution excuses,” the Journal tells us about the Administration’s favorite: ‘U.S. law bars direct assistance to a government formed by a military coup,’ as in Mali. Another favorite pretext is that the U.S. shouldn’t get involved because these Islamists aren’t targeting the U.S. Clearly the lessons of al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan in preparation to successfully attack the U.S. were wasted on this Administration.They may not be attacking the U.S. just now, but rest assure that the U.S. in on the jihadists mind and target list. It is clear that turning the Maghreb, Sahel, and (for that matter) West Africa into a safe haven for Islamic terrorists is creating a situation like that which obtained in Afghanistan in 1991. Thus, irrespective of the Mali coup, the U.S. should support its NATO allies. (See Item 3)
“JIHAD IN AFRICA”
Shiraz Maher of King’s College London has penned an informative piece on the relationship between the depredations of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and its fall, the Qaddafi-armed Touareg self-assertion in the Maghreb and northern Mali, and the current Islamist problem in Algeria and Mali. Even when one is leading from behind, as this Administration, the law of unintended consequences can’t be ignored. The story Maher tells is one Americans should know before they conclude that “Jihad in Africa” has nothing to do with us and our national security. (See Item 4)
[Click on the article titles to link directly to the publications]
5. Algeria hostage crisis: latest. Reports claim that one Briton may still be being held hostage in Algeria, as the US warns it will not negotiate wit terrorists. – TELEGRAPH UK:
Most of you will be following the In Amenas attack and kidnapping in the major media. The Telegraph UK seems to be providing the most up-to-date coverage and we refer you to it in Item 5.
Reuters and AP report on French progress in pushing back the Islamists in Mali. (See Items 6 and 7)Writing in Foreign Policy, Geoff Porter tells us why Algeria doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. (See Item 8)
The Washington Post has provided some first-hand accounts of the Algerian kidnapping. (See Item 9)
Writing on the Weekly Standard website, Thomas Joselyn profiles suspected architect of the Algerian kidnappings, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. (see Item 10)
The Financial Times portrays the workers at the In Amenas Gas Plant as living not only protected lives, but pampered ones, as if that were a cause of the Islamist attack. For some odd reason, the piece fails to mention that this was not Belmokhtar’s motive for attack, which was made on a facility that provides some 18 percent of Algeria’s oil exports and a plant that was customarily well defended by the government. (See Item 11)