By Bakari Gueye
As Senegal prepares to send troops to Mali as part of a regional stabilisation force, a new report indicates al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is targeting the West African state.
Dakar daily Le Quotidien reported June 21st that “intelligence services have learned of specific threats of attacks on Senegal by this armed Islamist organisation which claims to represent al-Qaeda. The terrorist group, which operates in the Maghreb and Sahel regions, including Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, now wants to add Senegal to the list of countries it fights in.”
“It now regards Senegal as a hostile country as the latter has decided to send troops to Mali as part of the ECOWAS mission in Mali (MICEMA),” the paper added, saying the threat was confirmed by Western intelligence sources and was being taken seriously by Senegalese authorities.
Military authorities in Senegal have said that the threat will not weaken their resolve to participate in this mission. They say that their country, which has contributed to peace keeping missions in regions far away from its borders, will not hesitate to commit itself to a mission whose objective is to resolve a crisis on its doorstep.
“Senegal and Nigeria are the two countries that will provide the largest numbers of men for MICEMA and that’s because they form the backbone of the ECOWAS Standby Force,” Senegalese journalist Mamadou Diallo noted.
“MICEMA is made up of 3,270 men and the rules governing its deployment in Mali were decided in Abidjan on Saturday (June 16th) by Standby Force officials during an emergency meeting of the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff of the armies of the member states of ECOWAS to discuss the situation in Mali,” Diallo said.
Diallo added that “the main objective of MICEMA, which will receive support from the UN, will be to restore peace and security in Bamako by protecting the safety of the transitional authorities among other things. In addition, MICEMA troops will go to northern Mali to reconquer this region, which has been seized by rebel movements such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), Islamists led by Ansar al-Din and AQIM itself.”
“It will be a tough mission, especially because these Islamist movements have already tried to establish a foothold by attempting to create an Islamic state governed by Sharia law in this part of Mali,” the Senegalese journalist said.
ECOWAS intervention “should not be put off any longer” in the opinion of the former chief of staff of the Senegalese army and former UN special envoy for West Africa, General Lamine Cisse. He has also stressed the importance of “the quality of the necessary intelligence before troops are sent to northern Mali”.
“When it comes to combat, it’s not just numbers that matter. The enemy’s capacities and resources also matter. For this reason, an accurate assessment of the situation on the ground is vital before troops are sent in, especially because there are MNLA rebels who are claiming land and jihadis who have a completely different agenda. That complicates matters,” the former general said.
General Cisse also gave the following advice: “These armed groups must be cut off from the population by fostering economic development in the region and meeting people’s basic needs. This can stop them coming into contact with the enemy, who will be seeking local assistance, if only to hide. This brings the risk of urban guerrilla warfare. If that is to be avoided, intelligence is essential.”
“The secret services must gather as much intelligence as they can: numbers of men, the type of weapons they have, the number of vehicles, arms caches, their relationship with local communities,” Cisse continued. “We need to know what’s out there on the other side.”