Thurston on AQIM Confrontations; Profile of a Mauritanian AQIM Fighter

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.)

8 thoughts on “Thurston on AQIM Confrontations; Profile of a Mauritanian AQIM Fighter

  1. priffe 7 July, 2011 / 5:52 am

    I’d öile to know how the French are doing intel and surveillance in the region.

    • lissnup 7 July, 2011 / 7:50 am

      @ priffe: Some info and background on the extensive involvement of French military & intelligence in this generously-referenced article on “French Counterterrorism Operations in the Sahara” from 36September 23, 2010 by The Jamestown Foundation

      • priffe 13 July, 2011 / 10:25 am

        Thanks lissnup, some good links in there

  2. Tidinit 7 July, 2011 / 4:17 pm

    Intel by probably the US too, but in a discrete way. Still wondering why Algeria does’nt lift a finger, despite their claim of success against these bandits.

  3. John 9 July, 2011 / 6:50 pm

    Algeria is successful at minimizing AQIM to an extent, I’d say in Algeria the network has declined, less armed attacks, less explosive attacks and probably less motivation for joining among potential new recruits. I think we can say that Algeria is conducting an effective long term counter insurgency campaign with constant pressure on the network and effective information operations that has led to the decline in Algeria. The effect of all this though is that more AQIM activity and members continue to pop up in the Sahel because they are enabled by a safe haven in Mali where there really is no pressure. And thanks to the cash our European friends have dumped info the network and the crisis in Libya with a resulting illicit arms flow to AQIM, its all getting worse before its getting better. The issue really is Mali who is not willing nor capable to fight AQ; they are in fact benefiting by having AQIM as a problem to the tune of tens of millions of Euro annually but without taking action. Mali stands to lose on the other hand if AQIM leaves, military assistance and humanitarian money will go elsewhere and the EU presidents and ministers who visit to help negotiate their hostages have given Bamako some clout. But if all this attention and money goes if suddenly AQIM leaves then what’s in it for Bamako if they take action. I think what we see is a Mauritania desperate to have Bamako taking action but knowing full well that they won’t. Mauritania implies that operations are taking place in partnership with Mali, but in reality the Malians do very little and are a sort of truce with AQIM, Mali could be attacked frequently by AQIM but they aren’t ever wonder why. What is needed is western governments should tie aid to effectiveness against AQIM, Mali gets a lot of money yet shows no effects, how many AQIM has Mali ever killed or captured, they low rankers they captured were always traded back by Mali or managed to escape.

    John South Africa

  4. tidinit 10 July, 2011 / 10:56 am

    Good point John. This recent article from Jeune Afrique (link below) confirms what you said (I think what we see is a Mauritania desperate to have Bamako taking action but knowing full well that they won’t. Mauritania implies that operations are taking place in partnership with Mali, but in reality the Malians do very little and are a sort of truce with AQIM, Mali could be attacked frequently by AQIM but they aren’t ever wonder why). Still if Mali does not lift a finger, Algeria does not do so. The “coalition”, that is the US, France and the EU are keeping hidden and not seen lifting a finger either. So Mauritania should just rely on herself. So, food for conspiracy theories regarding “powers” letting AQIM to grow and arguments against that do not make sense at all.,15408

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