Mali: The New Afghanistan – OpEd


The international community have for some time ignored Morocco’s persistent warning that sub Saharan Africa is starting to transfom into a safe haven for terrorist groups. Plagued by systematic state failure, sub-Saharan Africa’s failed states have helped facilitate internationally sponsored terrorist networks and operations.

States such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia are now lending huge quantities of arms, money to radical extremist jihadist movement of internationally sponsored terrorist such as al Qaeda. With the continuous abduction of European humanitarian workers in the region, it is becoming increasingly obvious that internationally sponsored terrorist networks have found a permanent home in sub-Saharan Africa and even within the hearts and minds of its people.


The last abduction of three European humanitarian aid workers south of Algeria proves that extremist jihadist ideology is already prevailing in Sahrawi camps. This new reality poses significant challenge for the international community, given the region’s patchwork of failed states, where terrorists can easily hide and strive. Moroccan authorities have given threat alarm for many years and have even urged strongly neighboring countries to coordinate their efforts to fight terrorism in the region.

The situation now has become even more serious and terrorist groups are now actively recruiting more militants from within the region and wide popular support for extremist acts is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. Europeans are the first to suffer from this escalation of terrorist groups in the region but the United States should take this threat very seriously. It is no more a benign terrorist group as used to be described. Soon sub-Saharan Africa will become the site of terrorists, and the next wave of terrorist activity if it hasn’t already become one. Now the occupation of the north of Mali by jihadist guerrillas has lately become a serious menace for Mali, its neighbors and Europe.

This is unfortunately one of the undesired consequences of the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which had attracted Tuareg warriors and others in its defense. If the armed Islamists consolidate this area as a safe haven, it would constitute an Afghanistan on the doorstep of the European Union. It could be a springboard for terrorist attacks in Europe, as well as strengthening the kidnapping network in the region, and unbalancing neighbor states.

For all these reasons we can only applaud the decision, endorsed by the UN, to set up an African force for the reconquest of this territory, with European support. The EU will contribute to the training and operative capacity of the force, made up of troops from members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Its task is going to be a reconquest of the lost territory. And, within the Union, it will require a high level of solidarity between North and South. Algeria, though largely affected by the situation,does not want to be involved directly in this military operation. It may commit itself however, to the task of closing its territory to jihadists fleeing from Mali.

The details of the EU’s military mission, which has received the political support of the European Council, are only gradually becoming apparent, though one of its principal duties will be to organize and train the precarious army of Mali up to a level where it will be able to reconquer the lost territory. This is going to call for a substantial amount of logistical support from Europe, as well as a supply of information from the United States.

The rebels denied news of the arrival of hundreds of combatants in their support, proceeding from Sudan and the Polisario controlled camps in Tindouf, which suggests that the situation may easily become very dangerous and that intervention is an urgent matter. In the view of French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, it will have to be a matter of weeks, not of months.

In principle, the operation ought to be the starting point in a widespread struggle against the multiple cells of Al Qaeda in the Muslim area of West Africa. But to grant it credibility , the government of Mali must also do its part. The provisional president, Dioncounda Traoré, came to power after a coup d’état in March. Since that time he has been promising a national dialog and the organization of fair and honest elections. Since then nothing has been concluded so far. The region needs real democracy, economic growth, rule of law and good governance.

Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a member of Washington Press Club.

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