What began ostensibly in January 2012 as just another invasion by the Sahara desert’s Tuareg tribesmen has evolved into what media commentators are calling ‘Africa’s Afghanistan’.
The Tuareg inhabit the Central Sahara and Sahel. Their population is estimated at 2-3 millions. Their largest numbers, some 800,000, live in Mali, followed by Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. In addition, a diaspora extends to Europe, North America, other parts of North and West Africa, the Sahel and beyond.
Since Mali’s Independence in 1960, the nomadic Tuaregs who transverse Mali and Niger have continuously attacked the two country’s central governments on several occasions. In 1962-4, an attack by Tuaregs on Mali was crushed ruthlessly. Major attacks in both countries in the 1990s were forcibly repressed by government forces. Since then, Niger experienced a small insurgency in 2004 and a much greater one from 2007 to 2009. In Mali, a spate of attacks in May 2006 was followed by a two-year insurgency from 2007 until 2009 when it dissipated into an inconclusive and transient peace.
However, the rebellion that began in Mali in January 2012 was different. The Tuareg had more and better equipped fighters than in previous insurrections. This was because many had returned from Libya after Gaddafi’s overthrow, bringing with them extensive supplies of modern and even heavy armaments. For the first time in the long history of Tuareg insurgency, there was a real likelihood that the Tuareg might drive Malian government forces out of northern Mali.
In October 2011, Tuaregs who fled Libya for Mali joined up with fighters belonging to Ibrahim ag Bahanga’s rebel Mouvement Touareg du Nord Mali (MTNM) to form the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA). Even though Bahanga had died under mysterious circumstances in August, his men were still intent on continuing their fight against Mali’s government. They were also joined by several hundred Tuaregs who were inside Mali.
The first shots in the new rebellion were fired on January 17 when the MNLA attacked the town of Ménaka. The following week, the MNLA attacked both Tessalit and Aguelhok. Tessalit was besieged for several weeks before falling to the MNLA in March. At Aguelhok, some 82 Malian troops, who had run out of ammunition, were massacred in cold blood on January 24. This ‘war crime’ has been referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Such a humiliating demise of Mali’s poorly equipped forces led to an army mutiny on March 22 and a junta of low-ranking officers taking power in Bamako. Within a week, the three major towns in northern Mali – Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu – all fell to the invading Tuaregs without resistance, leaving the whole of northern Mali in rebel hands. On April 5 the MNLA declared Northern Mali to be an independent state.
The declaration of independence received no international support, nor was it ever likely to do so. One reason for this was because of the alliance between the MNLA and the Arab terrorist group called Ansar al-Din, a jihadist movement led by a local Tuareg notable, Iyad ag Ghaly. Ansar al-Din was in alliance with another jihadist group, Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – MUJAO), with both being supported by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
At the start of the rebellion in January, the MNLA claimed to number several thousand, while Ansar al-Din numbered scarcely a hundred. However, by April, and for reasons that have remained a mystery to the media, it was the Islamists rather than the MNLA who were calling the shots in northern Mali. Indeed, on June 25, fighting between the Islamists and MNLA led to the latter being displaced from Gao, leaving Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu being ruled respectively by Ansar al-Din, MUJAO and AQIM.
With the MNLA marginalized, the Islamists quickly began imposing barbaric shari’a law in northern Mali. In Gao, a young man died after having his hand amputated for alleged theft; in Aguelhok, a couple were stoned to death for alleged adultery; in Timbuktu, ancient Malian tombs, UNESCO world heritage sites, were destroyed. Throughout the region, music, smoking, alcohol, TV, football, traditional African forms of dress and lifestyle were all banned as Arab Islamists dished out beatings, amputations and executions with a vengeance. By August, nearly half a million people had fled or been displaced.
In spite of concern being expressed at the apparent emergence of ‘Africa’s Afghanistan’ in the heart of the Sahara, no one has been prepared to address the key issue behind what is really going on in northern Mali. This is that the Arab Islamist ‘terrorist’ groups that have taken over control of the region are not only the creations of Algeria’s secret police, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), but they are being supplied, supported and orchestrated by the DRS.
In my two volumes on terrorism and the global war on terror (GWOT) in the Sahara-Sahel, The Dark Sahara (Pluto, 2009) and The Dying Sahara (Pluto 2012, in press), I describe and give detailed evidence of how Algeria’s DRS has colluded with western military intelligence in fabricating ‘false-flag’ terrorism to justify the West’s GWOT in Africa. The two volumes detail how AQIM was created by the DRS; how the DRS has been behind almost all of the more than 60 kidnaps of western hostages in the region since 2003 and how it has worked with the US, UK and French intelligence services in promoting the GWOT, state terrorism and co-called counter-terrorism policies.
What we have seen unfold in Mali during 2012 is merely the latest manifestation of the way in which the DRS has used the ‘terrorists’ that it has created to further the interests of Algeria’s ‘mafiosi’ state.
Corroboration of my long-standing analysis of the Algerian regime’s use of terrorism (‘state terrorism’) in helping to further and justify the west’s GWOT in North Africa and beyond was provided by John Schindler on July 10 (2012). In an article in The National Interest entitled ‘The Ugly truth about Algeria’, Schindler, a former high-ranking US intelligence officer and long-standing member of the US National Security Council (NSC) and currently Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, ‘blew the whistle’ on Algeria when he described how:
The GIA (Armed Islamic Group) [of the 1990s] was the creation of the DRS; using proven Soviet methods of penetration and provocation, the agency assembled it to discredit the extremists. Much of GIA’s leadership consisted of DRS agents, who drove the group into the dead end of mass murder, a ruthless tactic that thoroughly discredited GIA Islamists among nearly all Algerians. Most of its major operations were the handiwork of the DRS, including the 1995 wave of bombings in France. Some of the most notorious massacres of civilians were perpetrated by military special units masquerading as mujahidin, or by GIA squads under DRS control.