U.S. citizens among hostages seized in Algeria as France battles Islamists in neighboring Mali
(The Washington Post/Source: Staff reports)
Related articles on Mali
Edward Cody JAN 13
Mirage 2000D fighter-bombers struck Islamist targets and more French ground troops flew into the capital.
Edward Cody JAN 11
Move sets the stage for a new confrontation between the West and al-Qaeda-allied fighters.
Sudarsan Raghavan DEC 11
Forced marriages, amputations and other abuses are on the rise in the northern region seized this spring.
Sudarsan Raghavan NOV 30
Northern Mali, one of the richest reservoirs of Music in Africa, grows silent as musicians flee the hard-line edicts of Islamists now in power.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Edward Cody DEC 7
A U.S. and France-backed African force will try to prevent northern Mali from becoming another haven for jihadists.
- © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
Algérie : les ravisseurs veulent la libération d’islamistes
Une brigade liée à Al Qaeda revendique l’attaque. Crédits photo : HO/AFP
INFOGRAPHIE -Selon le ministre algérien de l’Intérieur, un Britannique et un Algérien ont été tués dans l’attaque du site gazier. 400 personnes seraient retenues en otage, selon les informations du Figaro.
Confusion autour d’éventuels otages français
Un porte-parole du groupe islamiste a affirmé un peu plus tôt que «41 ressortissants occidentaux dont 7 Américains, des Français, des Britanniques et des Japonais» ont été pris en otages. Il a ajouté que cette opération intervient «en réaction à l’ingérence flagrante de l’Algérie autorisant l’usage de son espace aérien par l’aviation française pour mener des raids contre le nord du Mali». Il a estimé que cette attitude de l’Algérie «est une trahison pour le sang des martyrs algériens tombés sous les balles du colon français».
Le président François Hollande a toutefois indiqué mercredi qu’il n’y avait pas de certitude concernant la présence de ressortissants français parmi les otages.
Un groupe lié à Aqmi revendique l’attaque
Ce porte-parole est membre d’un groupe islamiste récemment créé par Mokhtar Belmoktar dit «Le Borgne», qui a longtemps été un des chefs d’Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi). Selon un employé du site joint par téléphone, les preneurs d’otages réclament la libération de 100 islamistes détenus dans ce pays.
Un Britannique et un Algérien ont été tués et six autres personnes ont été blessées lors de l’attaque, a annoncé le ministre algérien de l’Intérieur, Dahou Ould Kablia. Il a précisé que les auteurs de la prise d’otages ne sont venus ni de Libye, ni du Mali. Le journal francophone El Watan affirme que des ravisseurs auraient pris la fuite à bord d’un 4 × 4. Des Algériens, retenus en otage auraient, quant à eux été libérés par petits groupes.
Une opération de l’armée algérienne serait toujours en cours contre les assaillants, qui auraient miné la base. Le ministre Dahou Ould Kablia a affirmé que les autorités ne négocieront pas avec les «terroristes».
Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Thursday, January 17, 2013 – 2:11 PM Share
The moment U.S. armed forces are deployed somewhere, that place moves to the top of the pundit queue. As a result, the bylaws of the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits mandates that I blog something about Mali of a higher quality than my glib post from last month. So here goes.
In a refreshing change of pace from to Previous Armed Forces Deployments that will Go Unamed, the New York Times is already voicing questions about the purpose of this mission. Indeed, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt litter their front-pager with some “first principle” questions to U.S. foreign policy principals:
The administration has embraced a targeted killing strategy elsewhere, notably in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, after top White House, Pentagon and C.I.A. officials determined that militants in those countries were bent on attacking the United States.
Asked if fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posed such an imminent threat, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the top American commander in Africa, said, “Probably not.” But, he said in an interview, “they subscribe to Al Qaeda’s ideology” and have said that their intent is to attack Westerners in Europe and, “if they could, back to the United States.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear on Wednesday that he considered the group a serious danger. “This is an Al Qaeda operation,” he told reporters while traveling in Italy, “and it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali, because they would use it as a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria.”….
[W]hat remained an open question, at least until last Friday, was whether the militant threat in Mali was serious enough to justify military intervention. Now, the context of that debate has changed.
General Ham put the matter succinctly in the interview, which took place last Friday, just hours after he learned about the French incursion into Mali.
“The real question,” he said as he raced off to a secure teleconference with senior Obama administration officials, “is now what?” (emphasis added)
Now, admirably, the Financial Times’ Xan Rice does explain rather concisely what France’s aims are in Mali:
France has three aims in Mali: to stop the Islamist insurgents’ advance on the capital; to help the government regain control of the north of the country; and to leave the country with a stable government.
But the strength of the well-trained Islamist militant forces points to a protracted intervention in the country where rebels maintain control of two towns in the centre of Mali, while Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, this week acknowledged the campaign was “very difficult”. (emphasis added)
Now, the tricky part of all this for the U.S. government is that while the first goal seems easy enough to achieve, the second seems much harder. And, most important, the United States has been trying to accomplish the third goal for the past decade — and it turns out we kind of suck at it:
In 2005, PSI was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a partnership of State, Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) meant to focus on improving individual country and regional capabilities in northwest Africa.
According to a Government Accountability Office study, Mali got roughly $37 million in TSCTP funds from 2005 through 2008. More than half went to Defense projects. But GAO reported that there were bureaucratic differences over the programs and funding problems. “USAID received funds for its TSCTP activities in Mali in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006,” for example. “Because it received no funds for 2006, the mission suspended a peace-building program in northern Mali,” the area with the greatest threat.
So the initial reporting suggests that the U.S. is about to blunder into another far-flung overseas operation in no small part caused by prior U.S. f**k-ups with no end in sight and a hostile population on the ground. Right?
Not so fast. Contrary to the claims of some militant anti-interventionists, the U.S. counter-terrorism policy didn’t cause the problems in Mali. And, indeed, based on this survey of Northern Mali villagers conducted by some kick-ass political scientists early last year, it would seem that the locals would welcome further U.S. involvement, particularly on the humanitarian side of the equation:
The majority of our respondents were in favor of military intervention: 78% said it was worth the fight, 9% wanted to peacefully separate, and 23% were undecided (July). When asked how the northern crisis should be resolved, 50% of our respondents mentioned negotiations, while 60% cited military intervention as important to restore territorial integrity (May). Most respondents who felt that military intervention was necessary preferred exclusively domestic involvement by the Malian military (43% of respondents). Of those citing the need for foreign intervention, the US was the most popular of the potential allies (23% of respondents favored US intervention), followed by France (18%) and then ECOWAS (15%). In light of changing public opinion in Bamako it is possible that if asked today, villagers would be more pro-foreign intervention and pro-French….
We asked villagers the open-ended question: what policy area would you prioritize if you were President of Mali? Most individuals prioritized human development issues (health, education, water, agricultural support) both before and after the rebellion. In the January baseline survey, 51% of respondents cited development issues, while 9% mentioned peace and security. After the villagers found themselves on the border of rebel-controlled territory, 67% cited development issues and 14% peace and security (July). Regardless of the level of political stability, the vast majority of respondents would focus on basic human development needs.
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population — we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the “Afghanistan” box (bad) or the “Libya” box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas. That doesn’t mean that hard questions should not be asked about the scope and purpose of the U.S. mission in the Sahel. It does mean that those questions might have some surprising answers, however.
What do you think?
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Get Lost. Not you my dear Daniel W Drezner, Uncle Sam.
CBS/AP: Militants: 35 hostages dead in Algeria copter attack , January 17, 2013 4:49 AM
I agree with JanBurton. Ain’t our fight.
Let’s focus on corralling our top enemy, China, maybe collaring, take your pick.
Council on Foreign Relation has bunch of stuff on China.
China’s Search for Security, by Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell,
I hate to say, Nathan likes to write books, give interviews, appear on TV Talk shows and I believe, he is a buddy of Gideon Rose, too.
Man, what the world is coming to?
…and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com
Conversation on FP.com
The answer is NOTHING. It isn’t the USA’s job to take sides in every civil war – especially one involving Muslims and the task of “nation building.” You’d think the West would have grown tired of this story by now.
And it’s a bit rich for the French or Americans to act horrified by the threat of Islamists, seeing how their current policy is to cheer on the same jihadi folks in Syria while maintaining a close friendship with the worst Islamist regime on earth in Saudi Arabia.
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Mali: a rising tide of refugees and wounded
Mali government troops’ struggle with insurgent Islamists for control of the north is taking its toll on civilians
For a dozen young boys in central Mali, this is a crucial day. Wearing royal blue cloaks with pointed hoods, the boys line up beside the road in a small village just outside the city of Ségou, chanting in unison. In the eyes of their community these children have just become men. They shake musical instruments made from calabash bowls strung from sticks to signify that they are emerging, circumcised, for a public celebration of manhood.
The event has assumed an air of defiance in Ségou, a region now engulfed by a battle for control of the country.
The road beside the boys is busy with traffic – convoys of aid agencies driving south, instructed to leave after the security alert was raised to red, the highest level. Heading north are army trucks transporting supplies. Earlier in the day, they were carrying French and Malian soldiers.
Mali government troops have been fighting the al-Qaida-linked Islamists controlling the north of the country for almost two weeks now and the campaign is beginning to take its toll. Wounded soldiers are arriving at the main hospital in Ségou, the Hôpital Nianankoro Fomba, in a trickle that hospital officials think will become a flood.
“We are expecting an influx of wounded soldiers from the ongoing fighting in Diabaly,” said one official, who did not want to be named. “We are using up our supplies to treat those who have already arrived, we are worried that they will not be replaced.”
There are already 10 soldiers and one civilian who were wounded in Diabaly by bullet fire – a significant chunk of the hospital’s 134-bed capacity. When the Guardian visited, one soldier was being evacuated to Bamako for urgent specialist treatment.
In a far corner of the hospital grounds, wounded soldiers are recovering on metal beds, two or three to a room. Ibrahim Traore, 41, was wounded in Diabaly on Monday. “My leg was fractured by a bullet,” he said, lifting a tatty sheet to reveal a thick white plaster cast. “There was an exchange of fire between the army and the jihadists. They are well armed, they are very well equipped, and there were many of them.
“Now that the French have bombed Diabaly, the jihadists have fled,” said Traore, a corporal who was based in Diabaly for seven months before he was injured on Monday.
Traore said that the rebels came to the town from Lére, a town further north bombed by French fighter jets. “There was a huge group of Islamists in Lére,” he said. “When the French began bombing Lére, they split into three groups. One group came to Diabaly.”
As the rebels have moved south, so have thousands of civilians. The Sido Soninkoura school in Ségou houses many displaced children, some of whom are supported by the charity Plan International – which helps them with exercise books, blankets and sanitary items. The children wear well-worn bomber jackets, gloves and ear muffs to protect them against the winter, as January in Mali brings a mix of scorching sun, dusty wind and relatively cool air.
Almoukamatou Dicko, 15, left her hometown of Gao three months ago with her sister, after rebels murdered her headteacher to steal his moped.
“I was scared when I left Gao, I came to Ségou because my big sister is here,” said Almoukamatou quietly, fiddling with the orange and green tie-dye robes often worn by women in northern Mali. “My sister’s husband is a professor, he has found work teaching here, so we are managing. But I miss my mother, and I’m worried that bombs are falling on my town. We don’t want bombs.”
Fatou Malafa, 17, came to Ségou eight months ago from Timbuktu with 16 relatives. She is slim with fair skin and long braids, and speaks confidently about her ambition to be a journalist when she finishes school.
“I came to Ségou with nothing, I left all my belongings, and all my books,” she said. “I used to love reading novels, but I don’t have any here, and where we live there are no lights. I do my homework with the torch on my mobile phone.”
Fatou says her family owned a restaurant in Timbuktu, which baked bread and served rice dishes and coffee. “When the rebels arrived, they told people not to come to our restaurant, especially women,” she said. “For girls, they took away our right to go out.”
Fatou and Almoukamatou are typical of many of the once relatively well-off Malians who have fled the Islamist control, often so that they could continue their education after rebels closed down schools. But the new wave of fighting has changed that, and newer arrivals in towns like Ségou are no longer seeking education, but fleeing for their lives.
At the district social services headquarters in Ségou – a once grand building with an ambitious atrium of now thirsty plants – Ada Marica, 27, is slumped on a chair overcome by dizziness. She arrived in Ségou on Friday having fled the threat of fighting in Mopti. She speaks no French, but explained in the Peul language how her husband had left first, and she and her three children followed, planning to reunite in Ségou. He is missing.
“I don’t know where he is, his phone is not going through. I am worried,” Marica said. “All I can think of is finding him, since we arrived I have not slept.”
Her husband earned a living making chicken feed out of dried fish, while she kept house and looked after their two children.
“We have no money now, and not enough food,” she said, distressed. “We came to Ségou to stay with a host family – family friends of my mother’s – but they do not have the means to support us, so I have come here hoping social services can give me money and food.”
Officials at the social services office say there is little they can do to provide immediate assistance to people like Marica. “We don’t have the means to do anything straight away to help,” said Ibrahim Almahadi, director of social and economic protection at the social services office. “We are worried about what is happening in Diabaly,” he added. “There are many wounded people coming to Ségou for medical treatment. We hope that the French will liberate the town.”
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