The Importance of Mali
Media coverage of the French reaction to the establishment of an Islamic enclave in Mali creates the impression of a limited operation conducted by a small military contingent. The vastness of one of the largest and poorest African countries has helped to reinforce such an impression. What should not be forgotten, however, is that this picture is only the visible part of the mighty iceberg.
The early stages of the process that led to the French intervention in Mali was connected to the appearance of the first Islamic groups in the northern part of the country during the 1990s. The development that brought about the creation of an Islamic enclave in Mali was initiated by the Islamic leftovers from the Libyan and the Algerian civil wars.
The oil-related cash that for decades flowed into Libya produced a wave of immigrants from countries tot he south. The largest majority of black jobseekers were looking for employment at the numerous construction projects of rich but underpopulated Libya.
When the Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi decided to create a mercenary force similar to the French Foreign Legion, immigration issues became more complicated. There were numerous and generally false speculations about the important role played by the black mercenaries in the civil war that had led to the downfall of Qaddafi.
As a matter of fact this role was quite limited. There were only 1,500 black mercenaries, which included hundreds of Mali-based Tuaregs, out of the 76,000 soldiers loyal to the dictator. This situation didn't save the terrified majority of black immigrants to Libya from the brutal treatment they got from the "rebels."
The end of Qaddafi rule was greeted enthusiastically by the world media. But what remained hidden for quite some time was the huge arsenal of weapons the dictator had acquired during the long decades of his rule. These weapons ended up primarily in the hands of a motley crowd of Jihadists.
Recently the French military contingent got involved in an intense battle with the Jihadists in northern Mali. The French participants in the battle were impressed by the sophistication of the training and the weapons of their enemies. But there was no cause for amazement, considering that 10,000 shoulder-fired missile launchers possessed by the Kaddafi army ended up in the hands of the radical Islamists.
The Algerian civil war throughout the 1990s was a conflict that still awaits a complete analysis. This long and brutal confrontation was won by the Algerian Army. From time to time, although defeated, the Islamists were able to organize terrorist acts in urban areas and to maintain their presence in the isolated desert areas of Algeria. It was from there that they recently launched an assault on the Amenas gas facility located in the southeastern corner of the country.
The remnants of the GIA, (the French acronym for the Armed Islamic Group, the military forces of the Algerian Islamists), became a component of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
For a long time, the strategy of the Algerian government with regard to the challenges presented by radical Islamists was full of contradictions. On the one hand, the Algerian Army and police forces continued harsh wartime policies against detained Islamists. Also Algeria didn't object to the use of its airspace by the French military forces on their way to Mali.
On the other hand, Algerian leaders, including President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, are not strangers to complicated maneuvers that involve occasional secret contacts with the Jihadists. It was Bouteflika who not so long ago decided to release about 2,000 imprisoned Jihadists in an attempt to let bygones be bygones with the hope that it would pacify the country in the aftermath of a long and bloody conflict.
With this action, Pres. Bouteflika demonstrated an astounding lack of ability to learn from one of the most important lessons of history, the essence of which is simple: like all totalitarians, the Jihadists don't recognize the existence of a category called generosity or compassion. For them every statesman showing tolerance is stupid, or weak, or both. Small wonder that the released jihadists in Algeria quickly vanished from the city areas in order to emerge as guerilla fighters.
The creation of an Islamic enclave on the territory of northern Mali and the hostage taking in southeastern Algeria were closely connected Jihadist endeavors. Algerians played an important role in the occupied cities of Mali. At the same time, the recent hostage taking was an operation in which 29 out of 40 participants were Tuaregs. Many among them were former black mercenaries in the Qaddafi Army.
The dramatic events that shook part of the African continent that not many people care about could have extremely important consequences in the not-so-distant future.
The limited French military intervention in Mali that precipitated the hostage crisis prevented for the time being the Islamic takeover of Mali. At the same time however, the Islamic influence in the Sahel region, where the poorest African countries are located, continues to grow.
In other words the Jihadists have strong positions and connections in the states that are located between the Arab-populated northern Africa and the rest of the continent. There is an Islamic continuum between the Horn of Africa, with Somalia as the best example, all the way to Mauritania.
If the Islamic offensive in this region continues undisturbed, the next victims of the Islamo-totalitarian assault will be Algeria and Morocco. The same factor will influence and possibly speed up the ongoing Islamization of Egypt , Libya, and Tunisia.
The establishment of an Islamic stronghold on the Mediterranean coast of Africa will represent a direct threat to France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and will have a tremendous impact on the ongoing process of the Islamization of Europe.
There is a way to prevent these sinister developments that sooner or later will affect the United States. An effective strategy would require a joint effort of an American led NATO-Organization for African Unity (OAU) coalition, which should organize the protection and defense of the continent. The current situation in sub-Saharan Africa provides little assurance that any such steps will be taken.
Georgy Gounev teaches the ideology and strategy of radical Islam in Southern California within the framework of the Emeritus program. He is also the author of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon, Foreign Policy Challenges, Laguna Woods, CA, 2011. The book explores the international impact of the Islamization of Europe.