1. Alex Thurston, friend of the blog and author of the indispensable Sahel Blog, writes of the recent battles between AQIM and the Mauritanian and Malian armed forces:
First, both incidents have given rise to massive speculation and rumor (for those who read French, see the Malian news aggregation site Maliweb for daily examples) about the nature of the battles and the precise contributions of Mauritanian and Malian forces.
Second, it is possible that there is an escalation in the intensity of the fighting – yesterday’s battle featured, on the Mauritanian side, use of aircraft, and the character of the fighting this summer feels fiercer to me than other recent incidents, such as a clash between Mauritanian forces and AQIM in January/February of this year (on the other hand, the attack on Lemgheiti, Mauritania, by AQIM’s predecessor organization in 2005 was at least as intense as yesterday’s attack).
Finally, observers, both in the region and in Western powers, are watching carefully to see whether AQIM’s capabilities have increased due to alleged influxes of Libyan weapons, and whether Sahelian militaries are getting closer to neutralizing AQIM. TheChristian Science Monitor quotes an unnamed Western official in Mali questioning whether the political will exists in Sahelian capitals to prosecute the fight against AQIM to the full extent. That may be the case. Yet it seems that Mauritania and Mali – as well as AQIM – are gearing up for sustained military conflict.
Nouakchott’s posture has historically been somewhat more aggressive than Bamako’s, which had been a source of tension between the two countries on AQIM. The Malians were originally hesitant for a number of reasons including on the one hand fear that their fight against AQIM triggering wider internal conflict, especially with the Arab (Moorish) and Tuareg communities in the north where AQIM has attempted to graft itself into (with some limited success) and a lack of desire to poke at overlapping smuggling networks (which include AQIM, local populations, members of the security forces, etc.) that are likely to include members of the armed forces and government in Bamako. Pressure toward greater cooperation and firmness from Europe, America and Algeria have likely been key drivers in recent cooperation. Recent offensives appear significantly more successful than those in 2010 and from a western perspective are probably preferable to the largely reactive posture taking through 2009.
2. A piece of interesting information: Al-Akhbar has a report on one of the leaders of the Tuesday attack, a al-Mimoun Ould Aminou [translit.?]. Ould Aminou was “left Mauritania in 2004 before finishing university to join the camps of the armed group in northern Mali. According to al-Akhbar’s source, Ould Aminou was born in the nineteen eighties in Taganit. It describes his “radicalization” and how it created friction between him and his parents and family. The report says Ould Aminou appeared in several AQIM videos after heading to the camps. He was allegedly close to the men who carried out the attack in Tavregh Zeina and AQIM’s Nema suicide attacker (from last year). He goes by “Khaled al-Chinquitti” (Khalid al-Shinqiti) and helped lead the raid on Tuesday “in order to prove the maturity of the Mauritanians in the armed group (AQIM)”. Others killed included Anas al-Jazairi (the Mauritanians claim he was a major leader) and Abdelhalim al-Azaouadi (al-Azawadi). Taqadoumy reports that the Mauritanian Army was tipped off to Tuesday’s attack by French intelligence. (More on the raid in a post later today.)