Update RE: Raids against AQIM in Mali

Here is the text of the update added to the previous post regarding the Franco-Mauritanian raid near the Malian-Mauritanian border. It was added as point 5 in the original summary and is reproduced here to make it more readable. The only difference between the text here and in the previous post is its organization. Below the numbered information are maps showing the vicinity of the two raids mentioned — Araouane (the Franco-Mauritanian one) and the area around Tessilit and the Tighaghar Mountains (the Franco-Algerian one).

UPDATE: [Information from 2 and 3 August, 2010.] An Algerian source (separate from the first and close to the military) notes the following:

  1. The official Algerian position — that Algeria had no part in the raid and plans no counter-terrorist activity outside of its borders — is false. The Algerians were informed in advance. According to this source, the Algerians participated in a second attack for which the “Franco-Mauritanian” one was to serve as a “decoy”.
  2. The second attack, which was mentioned in Malian newspapers last week and also mentioned in some Algerian papers as a possibility, is said to have been against an AQIM “base” in the Tigharghar Mountains (Menas Associates has a large report on this as well, more detailed though more ambiguous than what this blogger’s source relates; they also quote an Echorouk article reporting that aircraft were used in the first raid and that France denied using any aircraft and an additional report from Xinhua that says the attack used the Tamanrasset center, though this was not the case in the first raid. More interesting is Menas’s “absolute confirmation” that the French chief of staff met with Mohamed Mediene (“Tewfik”) on 20 July. Both the source and Menas mention the Tigharghar position as having been used by the Tuaregs in the past and having been used by AQIM for 12-14 months.).
  3. This source reports that no Mauritanians participated in the second attack and that it was carried out by Algerian and French forces. (The source calls the Mauritanian attack “the newspaper raid”.) The attack, the source says, used Algerian attack helicopters (the source did not say “helicopters”; rather he declined to identify what kind of aircraft was used or where it originated but said that “Russian machines” were used, which would suggest they were Algerian) from southern Algerian positions (likely from Bechar, Tindouf or Tamanrasset, though the numbers of attack and transport craft in the south is somewhat illusive) brought into Mali with French personnel and support (French craft could also have been used). The Algerians carried out massive troop movements in the Sahara in late June and July (desert sweeping) and it would not be surprising if this second raid was a part of these maneuvers.
  4. The source says the second raid was also meant to rescue Germaneau but was unsuccessful toward that end. The Algerian source says that the mountains are “hard terrain and some of the intelligence was inaccurate.” The source says the troops used were Algerian and French and that the attack used a Malian airstrip (which the source would not name but Menas identified Tessilit; see this map). The source would not speak to whether Germaneau was actually at the Tigharghar base (which was especially used for smuggling) or if he was killed in the process of the attack or earlier. It is possible that Germaneau had been dead for some time before the raid(s). Menas has a darker (but not wholly convincing) assessment: “There is mounting evidence that there were two operations: a decoy near the Mauritanian border, where six ‘traffickers’ (supposedly AQIM) were killed, and a more serious and politically-sensitive operation run out of Tessalit (and perhaps Tamanrasset) which was an unmitigated disaster. This main operation not only appears not to have located any major AQIM base (probably because they were tipped off by the DRS) but failed to find any trace of Germaneau … It is suggested that one motive for Algeria manipulating France in this way is to make France/Sarkozy appear responsible for his death.” Menas further believes that the Algerians “suckered” the French into the second raid with (presumably) false intelligence (they also believe the helicopters were French though this conflicts with this blogger’s source’s account; the Menas narrative is not totally reasonable in some parts).
  5. The indignation from the first Algerian source (quoted above in point 1) may be political cover or simply reflects the source’s position within the (less informed) political establishment rather than the military (where the second source comes from). The motivation behind the decoy and the “real” raid might be to deflect attention from its failure, saving face for France and Algeria (especially for the French who, not having rescued their hostage, could still say they killed some of the enemy). Also related to this are the political implications of Algerian soldiers fighting alongside French troops. As Menas notes this would play straight into AQIM and other jihadi propaganda about apostates and crusaders and likely irritate more nationalistic types in Algeria. The source continuously stresses that the Tigharghar base is surrounded by “horrible, impossible terrain” and that this made failure or complications more likely and that the “easy newspaper raid” near the Mauritanian border was meant to “give us cover from this.” Regarding the second possibility, the source says: “that is possible, but the enemy knows we cooperate with France. They know all the governments are against them; it would be better if the French did not present themselves as the first fighters.” The other concern might be related to regional opinion; the “second” raid would have been comparatively large to previous skirmishes and engagements with AQIM and would cause many to ask serious questions. Many Malians are sore with France and Mauritania about the raid as a “violation of our territory,” and already hold deep suspicions about France, Mauritania and Algeria’s intentions. Algeria’s role in a large attack within Malian territory would be problematic from this standpoint; it would be better to have such discontent directed at Mauritania and France.
  6. From a communications standpoint, the French handled this poorly, with multiple leaks coming out of every pore of the operation. Part of this is simply because there are so few people in the vicinity of where it happened and part of it is because the French and the Mauritanians and Algerians talk a lot. Other political motivations are probably at work, too, especially in the Algerian news reports that mentioned the Tigharghar raid or Algerian participation at all.

The first map is of Mali, showing the distance between Araouane (in the Tombouctou region) and Tessilit/the Tigherghar Mountains in Kidal. Araouane is on the road leading north out of Tombouctou city in the region labeled “Azaouad” (click to enlarge). Tessilit is on the north-western edge of the “Adrar des Ifouras” (Ifoughas) by the south eastern Algerian border. Adrar means “mountains” in practically all Berber languages, including Tamasheq/Tamahak. There are Adrar provinces in Mauritania, Algeria and elsewhere in the Sahara. (Click to enlarge.)

The second map is of Araouane. The down appears to be surrounded by recent dunes (the remains of what were probably date palm groves can be seen to the north-west). The town’s wells can be seen in the center of the town. This is where the Franco-Mauritanian raid is said to have taken place. There is no garrison at Araouane. Local sources say that the town is useful to “anyone” for two reasons: it has diesel fuel and water — the two main ingredients for cruising around in the desert. Activities in the desert are depending on how much fuel and water one can get from where and within what time frame. According to the same locals, the town is thought of a “staging ground” for folks roaming in the region. The town is recently desertified, most houses and its mosque are buried in sand. It was (and by some accounts remains) an important point in regional trade in the recent past — whole caravans stopped there on the way through to and from Taoudenni. (Click to enlarge.)

The third, fourth and fifth maps are satellite images of Tessilit. In the first image, the town and wadi are visible to the north-east. The airstrip mentioned is to the south-east. What may be a military encampment can be seen between the wadi and the airstrip. The second Tessilit image shows the airstrip, the town and the mountains to the east. In the last image, the Tigherghar Mountains can be seen to the south of Tessilit. (Click to enlarge.)


17 thoughts on “Update RE: Raids against AQIM in Mali

  1. “the Menas narrative is not totally reasonable in some parts”

    Menas Associates on AQIM means Jeremy Keenan, who for all his area expertise is slightly unhinged on these issues. It’s all AQIM = DRS = CIA with that guy.

    • Agree about Keenan and Menas. The constant out bursts about the DRS and the unexplained accusation about the Algerians giving out false info on purpose are Keenan. Lots of interpretation without clear data or reasoning. Big fa ts make sense, “context” is lacking. Lots of exaggeration me thinks.

  2. I am not sure Alle, but what he said about El Para and most of the rest holds. The big question now is whether Algeria participated in the raid or not. At least they seem to have been informed prior to the raid. The problem here is that all the states are hiding the truth, be it the Mauritanians, the French, the Malians or the US. Is Keenan unreasonable because of AQIM= DRS=CIA? What about the rest? For example the newspaper raid?

    • I forgot the Algerians and the Nigerians in withholding the truth about this AQMI. What was the result of all this Flintlock 10 that costed hundred of millions of $ to US taxpayers and they were unable to find the Spanish hostages? We have not seen anything since the establishment of the Tamanrasset Center, but warning about foreign intervention to deal with AQMI. Algeria here is giving a lot of ammunition to Morocco ….

      People like me just want peace and the hell with oil, gas, uranium and the dirty little game.

  3. Thank you Karim. Seen only before this the translation by Rue89 into French. If he wrote in French, people in the area will be able to judge. Watching Al Jazeera for the next piece from Keenan as they said this below:

    “Jeremy Keenan’s next feature will explain why French hostage Pierre Camatte was released from AQIM captivity in February; why France chose Mauritania in preference to Mali and Niger as its ‘decoy partner’; and how the identities of the ‘terrorists’ killed in the July 22 raid may have been falsified”.

    When governments keep quiet, we rely on other sources. Keenan seems to know his stuff. But how accurate he is? More than the press in the countries involved in this mess.

  4. Read the piece by Keenan in Al Jazeera again. One thing I don’t agree with Keenan: that the French did not know what is happening and mislead by DRS. That is impossible. At least 6 countries know exactly what is going around there: France, Algeria, Mali, Niger, the US, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, and with the recent visit of a high-ranking British military to Ould Abdel Aziz, the UK of course. They know who is playing the cards ….

    • Agreed on this point. He adds too much intrigue to the story. I’m not convinced that the Algerians are actively conniving against the French. I will dispute whether everyone in those countries knows what “going on”; I know there are many Mauritanians that should know or should know more but are totally clueless. Aziz, Ghazouani and that circle probably know but not everybody making decisions. Which makes me think that the Malians might know even less…

  5. This does not make too much sense to me:
    What is even more galling for France is that its unique relationship with Algeria and the current low-level of Franco-Algerian relations are such that it is hardly in a position to remonstrate. Indeed, if it ever becomes public knowledge, especially in Algeria, that the French and Algerian militaries were cooperating in the killing of Muslims, and in a foreign country, the political consequences could be devastating. For the moment, at least, Algeria and its DRS have France over a barrel.

    How exactly would the DRS gain from this? French military interventions in Africa are more or less routine and would not surprise many people. I would think that if that info became public knowledge it would be more embarrassing for the Algerian authorities.

    • This is my question with a lot of Keenan’s writing. It assigns motives that are too fair to the French and gives too much credibility to the competence and independence of the DRS and even the USA (read his book and some of his earlier articles on America and the DRS).

      The way Keenan has it, the Algerians are only interested in new American weapons and are thus fabricating AQIM to drum up a case for advanced armaments. What does or has Algeria gain from this in Keenan’s formula? Prestige? Space for trafficking? Are the French really that stupid? What is Algeria’s big interest in that part of Africa? Certainly the Algerians can get what they want (and are by and large getting it) from Russia or other countries, if Keenan’s theory is true the Algerians have been net losers by running AQIM (they have not gotten especially useful American weapons, more and more foreign militaries and intelligence services near their borders, etc.). It seems curious, though some of it is reasonable. I am interested to read the next article on Al Jazeera.

      • Was there a third article in AlJazeera yet?
        Haven’t seen it.
        Someone should write a profile on Keenan. With four decades in the area, he should have excellent knowledge and sources. And then he looses it by repeating the same accusations DRS/CIA/AQIM over and over without being able to prove anything.
        I fail to see an agenda, but I am curious as to what his driving forces are.

  6. Fair what you say Kal. When I say every country know what is going on, I am saying the security people, part of the army and probably the heads of state and government. The only thing I have realized is that the Ministers for Interiors home in Mauritania do not know what is going on: they say what they are told to say. The Minsters for foreign affaires and let’s say that of finance and probably the PM are completely clueless on this. So, only very few people are in the know of what is really going on in these countries.

    Look at the air cocaine: a huge cargo lands in November 2009 in Tarkint (Mali) with the help of Baba Ould Cheikh, the mayor of Tarkint (involved also in every hostage ransom negotiation since the El Para saga with the 32 hostages, through the Austrians to the Canadians and no one bothers him after the ransom payments or before). No one knows about that cargo. The Algerian press (El watan and/or El Khabar) inform us that there were two more landing of planes in January and February. No government sees anything, knowing that the US and at least the French are monitoring everything, if the war on terror in the sahara/sahel is not a joke (I think it is as Flintlock 10 did not say anything about where the Spanish hostages could be and the only tangible result was to teach malian soldiers how to put a foot on a break or accelerate a military car!). So some people are playing some game and they know who is playing which part. The proof: the refusal to hold that security conference in Mali and invite Morocco and probably the UN and the AU.

    Moreover, where did the Spanish hostages went through ? No one know and people have tendency to say they passed through the sahara under the control of Polisario. Up to this day, neither Mauritania, nor Mali or Algeria said where they went through and who helped them to reach North Mali. They know with Spain and France (and the US), but they are saying nothing. The article from the New York Times ” the Conundrum of the Sahara” says everything about the capability of the US surveillance planes or equipments to see everything moving be it the guys who killed the 12 soldiers in Tourine or the move from Ag Bahanga troups from the border with Libya to Nampala at the border with Mauritania. The New York spoke about more in that article, but governments are silent.

    Keenan is sometimes missing some points in concentrating too much on DRS. He forgets the aim of France to reclaim its pré-carré, the real origin of these air cocaines coming from Venezuela and linked to FARC and Hezbollah. Looks like the Contra era …

    Can’ t wait to read Keenan’s next article on Al Jazeera. People have been trying to fill tin he dots since 2004, but nothing believable comes from the press fed by very sophisticated government propaganda teams. I have seen it during the attempt to kick-out Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and it was visible. Without the Keenan, Gèze, Mellah and others, we will be still believing that our AQMI is not fabricated by these bedfellows.

  7. Taken from Maliweb. This is messy too. We don’t know if it is AQIM or the Tuaregs. One after the other, without a clear explanation which is which and how they are related.

    La Situation politique et sécuritaire au Nord
    Au Mali, un douanier et un militaire enlevés par Aqmi


    BAMAKO (AFP) – mercredi 11 août 2010 – 19h59 – Un collaborateur des douanes et un militaire maliens ont été enlevés mardi par Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi) dans le nord du Mali, a appris mercredi l’AFP auprès de leur famille et des autorités maliennes.

    “Aqmi a enlevé mardi dans le nord du Mali un +guide-douanier+ et un membre de la garde nationale”, composante de l’armée malienne, a déclaré à l’AFP un responsable du gouvernorat de Kidal (nord-est), région dans laquelle l’enlèvement a eu lieu.

    “Ils ont été enlevés mardi dans la région de Kidal par Al-Qaïda qui leur reproche de lui être hostile”, a de son côté déclaré Moctar Ag Klinine, un parent de l’un des deux hommes enlevés.

    Un responsable du ministère malien de la Sécurité a confirmé l’information.

    “Avec le +guide-douanier et l’élément de la garde nationale, il y avait d’autres personnes qui ont été épargnées. Ce qui veut dire que les personnes arrêtées étaient ciblées”, a ajouté la même source.

    Une autre source des services de sécurité au Mali a désigné une certain “Taleb, un Touareg” lié à Aqmi, d’être “l’auteur de l’enlèvement des deux personnes”.

    “Aqmi les avait dans le collimateur. Et ils étaient au centre d’une lutte d’interêt, une lutte pour le leadership dans la région de Kidal. L’une des deux personnes enlevées a été blessée”, a ajouté la même source.

    Aqmi commet des attentats et procède à des enlèvements dans une vaste zone désertique aux confins de la Mauritanie, de l’Algérie, du Mali et du Niger.

    La branche d’Al-Qaïda au Maghreb avait revendiqué le 25 juillet l’exécution d’un otage français de 78 ans, Michel Germaneau, enlevé au Niger en avril et transféré au Mali. Un raid mené le 22 juillet par des militaires français et mauritaniens pour tenter de le retrouver – au cours duquel sept djihadistes ont été tués – avait échoué.

    Aqmi retient toujours prisonniers dans le nord du Mali deux otages espagnols, Albert Vilalta et Roque Pascual, enlevés en novembre 2009 en Mauritanie.


  8. The famous spanish kidnapper ” Ould Sahraoui” released by Nouakchott to the Malians to contribute in freeing the spanish hostages (+10 million euros or dollars). The Malians are doing the deal. Same thing over again, but this time lives will be saved.

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