[News] Burn, burn - Africa's Afghanistan

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 18 16:45:30 EST 2013

**Burn, burn - Africa's Afghanistan*
*By Pepe Escobar


LONDON - One's got to love the sound of a Frenchman's Mirage 2000 
fighter jet in the morning. Smells like... a delicious neo-colonial 
breakfast in Hollandaise sauce. Make it quagmire sauce.

Apparently, it's a no-brainer. Mali holds 15.8 million people - with a 
per capita gross domestic product of only around US$1,000 a year and 
average life expectancy of only 51 years - in a territory twice the size 
of France (per capital GDP $35,000 and upwards). Now almost two-thirds 
of this territory is occupied by heavily weaponized Islamist outfits. 
What next? Bomb, baby, bomb.

So welcome to the latest African war; Chad-based French Mirages and 
Gazelle helicopters, plus a smatter of France-based Rafales bombing evil 
Islamist jihadis in northern Mali. Business is good; French president 
Francois Hollande spent this past Tuesday in Abu Dhabi clinching the 
sale of up to 60 Rafales to that Gulf paragon of democracy, the United 
Arab Emirates (UAE).

The formerly wimpy Hollande - now enjoying his "resolute", "determined", 
tough guy image reconversion - has cleverly sold all this as 
incinerating Islamists in the savannah before they take a one-way 
Bamako-Paris flight to bomb the Eiffel Tower.

French Special Forces have been on the ground in Mali since early 2012.

The Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), 
via one of its leaders, now says it's "ready to help" the former 
colonial power, billing itself as more knowledgeable about the culture 
and the terrain than future intervening forces from the CEDEAO (the 
acronym in French for the Economic Community of Western African States).

Salafi-jihadis in Mali have got a huge problem: they chose the wrong 
battlefield. If this was Syria, they would have been showered by now 
with weapons, logistical bases, a London-based "observatory", hours of 
YouTube videos and all-out diplomatic support by the usual suspects of 
US, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf petromonarchies and - oui, monsieur - 
France itself.

Instead, they were slammed by the UN Security Council - faster than a 
collection of Marvel heroes - duly authorizing a war against them. Their 
West African neighbors - part of the ECOWAS regional bloc - were given a 
deadline (late November) to come up with a war plan. This being Africa, 
nothing happened - and the Islamists kept advancing until a week ago 
Paris decided to apply some Hollandaise sauce.

Not even a football stadium filled with the best West African shamans 
can conjure a bunch of disparate - and impoverished - countries to 
organize an intervening army in short notice, even if the adventure will 
be fully paid by the West just like the Uganda-led army fighting 
al-Shabaab in Somalia.

To top it all, this is no cakewalk. The Salafi-jihadis are flush, 
courtesy of booming cocaine smuggling from South America to Europe via 
Mali, plus human trafficking. According to the UN Office of Drugs 
Control, 60% of Europe's cocaine transits Mali. At Paris street prices, 
that is worth over $11 billion.

*Turbulence ahead *
General Carter Ham, the commander of the Pentagon's AFRICOM, has been 
warning about a major crisis for months. Talk about a self-fulfilling 
prophecy. But what's really going on in what the New York Times quaintly 
describes as those "vast and turbulent stretches of the Sahara"?

It all started with a military coup in March 2012, only one month before 
Mali would hold a presidential election, ousting then president Amadou 
Toumani Toure. The coup plotters justified it as a response to the 
government's incompetence in fighting the Tuareg.

The coup leader was one Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who happened to have 
been very cozy with the Pentagon; that included his four-month infantry 
officer basic training course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010. 
Essentially, Sanogo was also groomed by AFRICOM, under a regional scheme 
mixing the State Department's Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership 
program and the Pentagon's Operation Enduring Freedom. It goes without 
saying that in all this "freedom" business Mali has been the proverbial 
"steady ally" - as in counterterrorism partner - fighting (at least in 
thesis) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Over the last few years, Washington's game has elevated flip-flopping to 
high art. During the second George W Bush administration, Special Forces 
were very active side by side with the Tuaregs and the Algerians. During 
the first Obama administration, they started backing the Mali government 
against the Tuareg.

An unsuspecting public may pore over Rupert Murdoch's papers - for 
instance, The Times of London - and its so-called defense correspondent 
will be pontificating at will on Mali without ever talking about 
blowback from the Libya war.

Muammar Gaddafi always supported the Tuaregs' independence drive; since 
the 1960s the NMLA agenda has been to liberate Azawad (North Mali) from 
the central government in Bamako.

After the March 2012 coup, the NMLA seemed to be on top. They planted 
their own flag on quite a few government buildings, and on April 5 
announced the creation of a new, independent Tuareg country. The 
"international community" spurned them, only for a few months later to 
have the NMLA for all practical purposes marginalized, even in their own 
region, by three other - Islamist - groups; Ansar ed-Dine ("Defenders of 
the Faith"); the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO); 
and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

*Meet the players*
The NMLA is a secular Tuareg movement, created in October 2011. It 
claims that the liberation of Azawad will allow better integration - and 
development - for all the peoples in the region. Its hardcore fighters 
are Tuaregs who were former members of Gaddafi's army. But there are 
also rebels who had not laid down their arms after the 2007-2008 Tuareg 
rebellion, and some that defected from the Malian army. Those who came 
back to Mali after Gaddafi was executed by the NATO rebels in Libya 
carried plenty of weapons. Yet most heavy weapons actually ended up with 
the NATO rebels themselves, the Islamists supported by the West.

AQIM is the Northern African branch of al-Qaeda, pledging allegiance to 
"The Doctor", Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its two crucial characters are Abu Zaid 
and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, former members of the ultra-hardcore Algerian 
Islamist outfit Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (SGPC). 
Belmokhtar was already a jihadi in 1980s Afghanistan.

Abu Zaid poses as a sort of North African "Geronimo", aka Osama bin 
Laden, with the requisite black flag and a strategically positioned 
Kalashnikov featuring prominently in his videos. The historical leader, 
though, is Belmokhtar. The problem is that Belmokhtar, known by French 
intelligence as "The Uncatchable", has recently joined MUJAO.

MUJAO fighters are all former AQIM. In June 2012, MUJAO expelled the 
NMLA and took over the city of Gao, when it immediately applied the 
worst aspects of Sharia law. It's the MUJAO base that has been bombed by 
the French Rafales this week. One of its spokesmen has duly threatened, 
"in the name of Allah", to respond by attacking "the heart of France".

Finally, Ansar ed-Dine is an Islamist Tuareg outfit, set up last year 
and directed by Iyad ag Ghali, a former leader of the NMLA who exiled 
himself in Libya. He turned to Salafism because of - inevitably - 
Pakistani proselytizers let loose in Northern Africa, then engaged in 
valuable face time with plenty of AQIM emirs. It's interesting to note 
in 2007 Mali President Toure appointed Ghali as consul in Jeddah, in 
Saudi Arabia. He was then duly expelled in 2010 because he got too close 
to radical Islamists.

*Gimme 'a little more terrorism' *
No one in the West is asking why the Pentagon-friendly Sanogo's military 
coup in the capital ended up with almost two-thirds of Mali in the hands 
of Islamists who imposed hardcore Sharia law in Azawad - especially in 
Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, a gruesome catalogue of summary executions, 
amputations, stonings and the destruction of holy shrines in Timbuktu. 
How come the latest Tuareg rebellion ended up hijacked by a few hundred 
hardcore Islamists? It's useless to ask the question to US drones.

The official "leading from behind" Obama 2.0 administration rhetoric is, 
in a sense, futuristic; the French bombing "could rally jihadis" around 
the world and lead to - what else - attacks on the West. Once again the 
good ol' Global War on Terror (GWOT) remains the serpent biting its own 

There's no way to understand Mali without examining what Algeria has 
been up to. The Algerian newspaper El Khabar only scratched the surface, 
noting that "from categorically refusing an intervention - saying to the 
people in the region it would be dangerous", Algiers went to "open 
Algerian skies to the French Mirages".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria last October, trying 
to organize some semblance of an intervening West African army. Hollande 
was there in December. Oh yes, this gets juicier by the month.

So let's turn to Professor Jeremy Keenan, from the School of Oriental 
and African Studies (SOAS) at London University, and author of /The Dark 
Sahara/ (Pluto Press, 2009) and the upcoming /The Dying Sahara/ (Pluto 
Press, 2013).

Writing in the January edition of New African, Keenan stresses, "Libya 
was the catalyst of the Azawad rebellion, not its underlying cause. 
Rather, the catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable 
outcome of the way in which the 'Global War on Terror' has been inserted 
into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence 
operatives, since 2002."

In a nutshell, Bush and the regime in Algiers both needed, as Keenan 
points out, "a little more terrorism" in the region. Algiers wanted it 
as the means to get more high-tech weapons. And Bush - or the neo-cons 
behind him - wanted it to launch the Saharan front of the GWOT, as in 
the militarization of Africa as the top strategy to control more energy 
resources, especially oil, thus wining the competition against massive 
Chinese investment. This is the underlying logic that led to the 
creation of AFRICOM in 2008.

Algerian intelligence, Washington and the Europeans duly used AQIM, 
infiltrating its leadership to extract that "little more terrorism". 
Meanwhile, Algerian intelligence effectively configured the Tuaregs as 
"terrorists"; the perfect pretext for Bush's Trans-Saharan 
Counter-Terrorism Initiative, as well as the Pentagon's Operation 
Flintlock - a trans-Sahara military exercise.

The Tuaregs always scared the hell out of Algerians, who could not even 
imagine the success of a Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali. 
After all, Algeria always viewed the whole region as its own backyard.

The Tuaregs - the indigenous population of the central Sahara and the 
Sahel - number up to 3 million. Over 800,000 live in Mali, followed by 
Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. 
There have been no less than five Tuareg rebellions in Mali since 
independence in 1960, plus three others in Niger, and a lot of 
turbulence in Algeria.

Keenan's analysis is absolutely correct in identifying what happened all 
along 2012 as the Algerians meticulously destroying the credibility and 
the political drive of the NMLA. Follow the money: both Ansar ed-Dine's 
Iyad ag Ghaly and MUJAO's Sultan Ould Badi are very cozy with the DRS, 
the Algerian intelligence agency. Both groups in the beginning had only 
a few members.

Then came a tsunami of AQIM fighters. That's the only explanation for 
why the NMLA was, after only a few months, neutralized both politically 
and militarily in their own backyard.

*Round up the usual freedom fighters*
Washington's "leading from behind" position is illustrated by this State 
Department press conference 
<http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/202714.htm>. Essentially, the 
government in Bamako asked for the French to get down and dirty.

And that's it.

Not really. Anyone who thinks "bomb al-Qaeda" is all there is to Mali 
must be living in Oz. To start with, using hardcore Islamists to 
suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the 
historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.

Moreover, Mali is crucial to AFRICOM and to the Pentagon's overall MENA 
(Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Months before 9/11 I had the 
privilege to crisscross Mali on the road - and by the (Niger) river - 
and hang out, especially in Mopti and Timbuktu, with the awesome 
Tuaregs, who gave me a crash course in Northwest Africa. I saw Wahhabi 
and Pakistani preachers all over the place. I saw the Tuaregs 
progressively squeezed out. I saw an Afghanistan in the making. And it 
was not very hard to follow the money sipping tea in the Sahara. Mali 
borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and 
Guinea. The spectacular Inner Niger delta is in central Mali - just 
south of the Sahara. Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, 
manganese, tin and copper. And - Pipelineistan beckons! - there's plenty 
of unexplored oil in northern Mali.

As early as February 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T Moeller was saying 
<http://allafrica.com/stories/200908140153.html> that AFRICOM's mission 
was to protect "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the 
global market"; yes, he did make the crucial connection to China, 
pronounced guilty of " challenging US interests".

AFRICOM's spy planes have been "observing" Mali, Mauritania and the 
Sahara for months, in thesis looking for AQIM fighters; the whole thing 
is overseen by US Special Forces, part of the classified, code-named 
Creek Sand operation, based in next-door Burkina Faso. Forget about 
spotting any Americans; these are - what else - contractors who do not 
wear military uniforms.

Last month, at Brown University, General Carter Ham, AFRICOM's 
commander, once more gave a big push to the "mission to advance US 
security interests across Africa". Now it's all about the - updated - US 
National Security Strategy in Africa, signed by Obama in June 2012. The 
(conveniently vague) objectives of this strategy are to "strengthen 
democratic institutions"; encourage "economic growth, trade and 
investment"; "advance peace and security"; and "promote opportunity and 

In practice, it's Western militarization (with Washington "leading from 
behind") versus the ongoing Chinese seduction/investment drive in 
Africa. In Mali, the ideal Washington scenario would be a Sudan remix; 
just like the recent partition of North and South Sudan, which created 
an extra logistical headache for Beijing, why not a partition of Mali to 
better exploit its natural wealth? By the way, Mali was known as Western 
Sudan until independence in 1960.

Already in early December a "multinational" war 
in Mali was on the Pentagon cards.

The beauty of it is that even with a Western-financed, 
Pentagon-supported, "multinational" proxy army about to get into the 
action, it's the French who are pouring the lethal Hollandaise sauce 
(nothing like an ex-colony "in trouble" to whet the appetite of its 
former masters). The Pentagon can always keep using its discreet P-3 spy 
planes and Global Hawk drones based in Europe, and later on transport 
West African troops and give them aerial cover. But all secret, and very 
hush hush.

Mr Quagmire has already reared its ugly head in record time, even before 
the 1,400 (and counting) French boots on the ground went into offense.

A MUJAO commando team (and not AQIM, as it's been reported), led by who 
else but the "uncatchable" Belmokhtar, hit a gas field in the middle of 
the Algerian Sahara desert, over 1,000 km south of Algiers but only 100 
km from the Libyan border, where they captured a bunch of Western (and 
some Japanese) hostages; a rescue operation launched on Wednesday by 
Algerian Special Forces was, to put it mildly, a giant mess, with at 
least seven foreign hostages and 23 Algerians so far confirmed killed.

The gas field is being exploited by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach. MUJAO has 
denounced - what else - the new French "crusade" and the fact that 
French fighter jets now own Algerian airspace.

As blowback goes, this is just the hors d'oeuvres. And it won't be 
confined to Mali. It will convulse Algeria and soon Niger, the source of 
over a third of the uranium in French nuclear power plants, and the 
whole Sahara-Sahel.

So this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa will be good for French 
neoloconial interests (even though Hollande insists this is all about 
"peace"); good for AFRICOM; a boost for those Jihadis Formerly Known as 
NATO Rebels; and certainly good for the never-ending Global War on 
Terror (GWOT), duly renamed "kinetic military operations".

Django, unchained, would be totally at home. As for the Oscar for Best 
Song, it goes to the Bush-Obama continuum: There's no business like 
terror business. With French subtitles, /bien sur/.

/*Pepe Escobar* is the author of/ Globalistan: How the Globalized World 
is Dissolving into Liquid War 
(Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during 
the surge 
His most recent book is Obama does Globalistan 
(Nimble Books, 2009). /He may be reached at/ pepeasia at yahoo.com
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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