RE: “Western help” on AQIM

NOUAKCHOTT — The leader of a moderate Mauritanian Islamist party said Thursday he opposed any coordination between Mauritania and Western countries, especially France, in the war against Al-Qaeda in the Sahel.

“We all agree to condemn terrorism and fight it vigorously, but we do not agree on coordination with foreign countries, especially when they have a colonial past in the region,” said Jemil Ould Mansour, leader of the opposition Tewassoul party, during a forum on extremism in Nouakchott.

He said he favoured regional cooperation, and spoke against advance strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which has been promoted by Mauritania, for which the country has “neither the means or the time”.

The Mauritanian army has recently carried out military operations against AQIM bases in northern Mali, including one in July with the aid of France.

Mauritania party against Western help in al-Qaeda fight,” AFP, 28 October, 2010.

What this article does not say is that Tawassoul (the local Ikhwan) has a minuscule following among average Mauritanians. It has fewer than two representatives in parliament and has no mass or even tribal base of which to speak. It does not explain why this particular party, unlike most other Mauritanian opposition parties (such as those in the FNDD, especially the RFD), has taken this stance and it does not remark on the implications of Jamil Ould Mansour’s sentiments. Going backwards, the implications are slim in general in terms of what they mean for Ould Abdel Aziz’s foreign policy vis-a-vis foreign military cooperation because the party’s power in government is negligible. Still, it is interesting to look at this report in light of recent events and general context.

Their opposition to Mauritania’s coordination with France and other western countries (though Mansour is emphasizing France to be sure) has three potential dimensions:

  1. Attracting media attention;
  2. Positioning itself safely within the broader Islamist tendency;
  3. Making common cause with allies.

Some of the reasons for the first dimension are as follows:

  • The party is small and hopes to increase its credibility and following by taking a provocative position slightly outside of the existing opposition consensus;
  • The party seeks to establish itself as a member of the critical opposition, differing from the regime on a matter of principle;
  • The party hopes to link itself to a nationalist cause and thus legitimize itself to a broader audience than its traditional base.

In terms of the second dimension, Tawassoul has made itself relevant by presenting itself to the regime and to key foreign actors as a bridge between the Islamist fringe and the rest of political society — as moderates. As the political side of the Islamist tendency they face two dangers: (1) being seen as threatening radicals that ought to be crushed (as was the regime’s view and action under Ould Tayya); or (2) as opportunistic and semi-committed politicians complicit in the regime’s excesses (as the most extreme sets in the hardline crowd view them). They must balance the two or else be discarded as useless by the regime — which hopes to use the party to control the Islamist clique — or the Islamist lot — which uses it as one of multiple means of defense from regime repression.

Where the third dimension is concerned there is the issue of the relationship between the Algerian and Mauritanian Brotherhood parties. It deserves mention that Tawassoul has essentially taken up the Algerian line where counter-terrorism is concerned. Algeria’s foreign minister (not to mention its military chiefs) have made their displeasure with foreign, especially French, involvement in raids and other operations against AQIM from at least July and in recent weeks especially. The Algerian press has put out reports critical of AQIM’s role in further “neo-colonialism,” and grumbling over the French (and then Moroccans) poking around in the region and its “collective security” efforts. That row has also affected their relations with Mali, as has been written on this blog before. The Mauritanians and the Moroccans have gone back and forth in the press and in kind over the last month as a result of Mauritania’s close and obvious cooperation with France, the Mauritanians even arresting an Algerian working for Italy’s foreign intelligence who was tracking western converts in the country.

Though there are many questions over the presence of (secret) foreign troops and bases (read: French) on Mauritanian soil, and most Mauritanian parties oppose such bases and the government denies their existence, few of these parties have outright condemned all foreign military assistance. Notice that Tawassoul, like the rest of the political class, is not opposed to fighting AQIM but rejects assistance from those with “colonial backgrounds” in the region. Most Mauritanians in the opposition agree with this position but see little to gain from such outright opposition and share the same fears over Mauritania not being able to afford an aggressive, pre-emptive campaign against AQIM outside of the country, which lends them to a less categorical view of foreign military assistance. Still, many Mauritanians view Algeria as a viable patron on terrorism issues (though not as an exclusive one) and by adopting the line it has, Tawassoul can attract some of these followers while increasing its value to the regime as a bridge with the Algerians.

Last week the head of Algeria’s Ikhwan and minister of state, Boudjerra Soltani, visited Nouakchott and met with Ould Mansour and several other Tawassoul leaders, signing an agreement of understanding before making his way back to Algiers. Such visits at a lower level are frequent; Tawassoul leaders often visit Algeria and meet with high-ranking leaders in the religiously-oriented segment of the government, men like Abdelaziz Belkhadem and Soltani. In statements to the media, Soltani emphasized the importance of political participation and offered his own party’s experience as a (curious) example of Islamists’ success in Algeria. The purpose of his visit was reportedly to “develop political action and coordinate positions on issues that concern people in the region and the Islamic world.” At the conclusion of the meeting, Soltani and Ould Mansour signed an agreement aimed at bridging cooperation between political and social groups in the Maghreb “to complement official activities between the two countries” especially in economic areas (while noting Algeria’s important role in that respect). The Algerians likely sent Soltani as part of some effort to sooth the row with Mauritania, which some Algerians view as being at risk of becoming a Moroccan client, using Ould Mansour as a vehicle of influence.

19 thoughts on “RE: “Western help” on AQIM

    • I believe the article is refering to this NYTimes article from a few months ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/15shadowwar.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1

      As for the Algerians heading to Mauritania, probably not going in large numbers but definitely can send trainers and materials. Can also project far into the Taoudeni Basin if they felt like it with air craft. Probably couldn’t do this without the approval of France and America, though. I think they are good terms with the Americans, who are carrying on very quietly. They want to avoid being seen as aggressive or out of control so the west will see them as responsible and reliable, while they carry on doing their own thing.

    • This article does not refer to the article from The New York Times, kindly shared here by Kal. He refers what is in the NYT article in general, but invents the coming of the Pentagone into the Sahara-Sahel “officially”. Wondering if the journalist had read the article from NYT or the article was written for him to sign below and publish it ….

  1. Is anyone interested in this article?

    Failed States and the Spread of Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa. By Tiffiany Howard, Political Science Dept, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV

    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a928527949~frm=abslink

    Abstract:
    Plagued by systematic state failure, sub-Saharan Africa’s failed states have helped facilitate internationally sponsored terrorist networks and operations. However, until recently, this type of activity was primarily relegated to North Africa and the Horn. But that has begun to change. Now, what was once a seemingly benign terrorist presence in sub-Saharan Africa is starting to transform into a movement, with states such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) now lending arms, financial support, and radical militants to the extremist jihadist movement of internationally sponsored terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. Further, with the recent bombings in Kenya and Somalia, and the failed bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner by a Nigerian national, it is becoming increasingly evident that internationally sponsored terrorist networks have found a permanent home in sub-Saharan Africa and within the hearts and minds of its people, which poses significant challenges for the international community, given the region’s patchwork of failed states, where terrorists can easily hide and thrive. Consequently, this study discusses how the conditions of state failure have fostered support for internationally sponsored terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorist groups are now actively recruiting more militants from within the region and popular support for extremist acts is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, the article argues sub-Saharan Africa will soon become the site for the next generation of terrorists, and the next wave of terrorist activity.

    • Thanks Jorge. Very scary and will read myself. Good to revisit the definition/concept of a failed state and I am certain that most of the countries in the sahara/sahel belt fit in the definition. Concerning sub-saharan Africa, things may blow very soon in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Conakry and these are the good example of two failed states. If the elections do not go well, we will have what the article from the University of Nebraska has predicted.

  2. Algiers here going really after few high-placed necks in Bamako, Nouakchott and Niamey.

    A proof that AQIM is fabricated by some among these bedfellows: the mayor of Tarkint is involved in all the deals surrounding the alleged AQIM business, be it communicating with hostages takers to pay ransoms since the 32 hostages, preparing the landing strip for the boeing of november 2009 and apparently 2 others in january and february 2010. Always according to El Watan of Algiers and in particular the star journalist Salima Tlemçani. Something is wrong here as always and this leading me to believe conspiracy theorists. We sometimes forget what they say and then you read this.

    Check yourself. This will again make a lot of noise in Bamako and Nouakchott as high-ranking officials are accused of working with AQIM either on drug related business or ransom payments. Bamako and Nouakchott should be cooking something not to the liking of Algiers to have El Watan get this article out. These countries will never cooperate. The foreign militaries coming when?

    http://www.elwatan.com/actualite/au-sahel-narcotrafiquants-et-terroristes-se-partagent-le-terrain-01-11-2010-97159_109.php

    • Definitely fishy and definitely the Algerians are trying to push hard at these guys. The Algerians are not happy. I think they assume the eventual cooperation of these countries, but they want to show their power, showing they can expose their corruption and “bring them down”. But if they keep like this, they will run out their influence; they can push only so hard before people throw up their hands and go to some one else. I’m really wondering if the Americans and French are complicit with the Algerians, who want to keep things quiet so that it doesn’t attract legal or political attention elsewhere. Very fishy, thanks for the link.

    • Thanks for posting these, was reading them this morning.

      Would suspect they are less furious because the Malians are in Nouakchott, ostensibly, in line with the Tamanrasset process. Perhaps still angry over the deployment into Mali, though I will be interested to see more on what kind of troops are going (and if they are again with French soldiers). Probably will produce some sour comments in Algiers.

  3. This is a little bit too much. Get the impression that the US Embassy and Flintlock are two separate entities that do not work together. How come the US military in Mali did not spot these flights from Venezuela to Mali? With all te surveillance gear they have? The Malians also seem to have double language. If Mali does not share info with the UN Drug Control Programme, the US military does not also share info with the US Embassy. Otherwise the content of the cable would be different.

    When US DEA will do its job on these air cocaines? They seem to be several, not one only. This gives credit to El Watan that said there were three landing; November 2009, January and February 2010 …

    ====
    Mali : révélations de WikiLeaks sur l’avion de la drogue
    Serge Daniel – RFI

    Un message de l’ambassade américaine révélé le 14 décembre 2010 par WikiLeaks revient sur le fameux Boeing de « Air Cocaïne » dont l’épave a été retrouvée le 2 novembre 2009 en plein désert, à Tarkint, dans la région de Bourem, au Nord Mali. Le télégramme américain tend à prouver que ce dossier a été verrouillé au plus haut niveau par les autorités de Bamako.

    Le message diplomatique américain est classé « secret ». On y apprend que l’enquête sur le fameux crash de l’avion de la drogue, dont l’épave a été retrouvée le 2 novembre 2009 à Tarkint, est placée jusqu’à la fin novembre 2009 sous la responsabilité exclusive de la DGSE malienne.

    Mais l’aviation civile malienne, qui est la juridiction normale d’enquête sur les accidents aériens, n’a pas reçu l’autorisation de travailler sur ce dossier sensible, comme l’avoue un responsable de l’aviation civile à un diplomate américain.

    « C’est la DGSE qui pilote l’enquête car le crash de l’avion a eu lieu dans le Nord Mali », avance un représentant de l’office des Nations unies contre la drogue et le crime.

    Plusieurs vols Colombie-Mali

    Selon lui, toujours d’après ce message diplomatique, même la brigade anti drogue de la police judiciaire malienne a été mise à l’écart du dossier. La même source affirme que le gouvernement malien a refusé de partager ses informations avec l’agence onusienne de lutte contre la drogue et le crime.

    Dans ce même télégramme diplomatique américain, on apprend que le fameux Boeing 727 avait été loué au Venezuela, était immatriculé en Arabie Saoudite mais volait sous licence bissau-guinéenne. Une licence de vol périmée depuis plusieurs mois.

    Enfin, on découvre que cet appareil avait déjà effectué plusieurs vols entre la Colombie et le Mali…

    tags: Drogue – Mali – WikiLeaks

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