In fact, it is rumored that French President François Hollande is seriously considering pursuit of a U.N.-backed military intervention in Mali to drive out rebel forces and AQIM. Re-focusing the U.S. Government’s policies to meet and prevent the resurgent Islamic extremist threat requires actions that will contain the violence in the North, address the humanitarian crisis, improve relations and focus on joint counterterrorism efforts with Algeria and Libya, and stop cooperation between the AQIM and Tuareg separatists.
Humanitarian Relief Efforts in Northern Mali
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) September 2012 Situation Report, Mali is facing a major nutritional, humanitarian, and security crisis. An estimated 4.6 million people are at risk of food insecurity, with most of them living in the North. While the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners continue to deliver food to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the South, the U.S. government can offer humanitarian aid by tasking USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) bureau to coordinate with NGOs and intergovernmental organizations in moving or supplying additional aid to the North.
These efforts will accomplish two important goals:
1) Relieve the nutritional and food crisis in throughout the country;
2) Place pressure on Islamic extremist groups where they either have to allow outside groups access to the populations to distribute aid, or deny access and face scrutiny from the local populations and the international community
Last year, during Somalia’s famine, Al-Shabab temporarily allowed outside groups to distribute humanitarian aid. Once they cut off access, Al-Shabab lost support among the Somali population. The same thing could happen in Mali. Humanitarian relief efforts work in our favor as it addresses the crisis, and gives us an opening to conduct other future operations.
This gesture on the part of the U.S. government would be seen positively in the international community and show that the U.S. has not ignored Africa.
Improve Relations and Focus on Joint Counterterrorism Efforts with Algeria and Libya
A resurgent, unchecked AQIM threatens U.S. assets and personnel throughout the region. The U.S. is open to providing technical assistance to improve counterterrorism efforts within both countries. Under no circumstances should the U.S. need to commit forces of any kind.
On the military side, Department of Defense’s J-5 Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy should take the lead in devising a long-term plan to assist with counterterrorism efforts with Algeria and Libya. These efforts should include improved management of existing military resources, intelligence-sharing, and border control (illegal drugs, weapons, flow of migrants). On the diplomacy side, Department of State should engage in continuous dialogue with both the Algerian and Libyan governments and relay the urgency in resolving the conflict in Northern Mali. They have responsibilities in maintaining stability within their own borders as well as the region. The recent events in Libya have forced the government and its people to take action against Islamic extremists that threaten their own path of self-determination, peace and security. We should use this as an opportunity to help expand their counterterrorism efforts to cover the entire region. Similarly, the Algerian government has had problems containing AQIM due to their unwillingness to strengthen military and local police capacity in their southern territory. It is in Algeria’s interests to secure the southern border and maintain a strong security presence that can deter future AQIM actions against the government.
At the same time, the U.S. should work with other foreign governments in tracking down the monetary flows that are funding AQIM and freeze its assets. This will severely damage their capabilities in offering a main source of cash to recruit soldiers, most of whom are young and unemployed.
Stop Cooperation between AQIM and Tuareg Separatist Rebels
Although the Tuaregs do not share in the extreme Islamic ideology of AQIM, they have been the main source of soldiers working for them. Because of the poor economic conditions and lack of basic services, AQIM is seen as the only option for Tuaregs to make money.
Reach out to both the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamic group, Ansar Dine, particularly their leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, who has ties to AQIM and plays a key role in promoting and continuing conflict in the Sahel. Ag Ghaly craves for power, but he must be convinced that armed violence will not achieve this goal. Ag Ghaly and Tuaregs must denounce and cease cooperation with AQIM. AQIM does not share in the Tuaregs’ ultimate struggle for self-determination. Therefore, the message must be conveyed clearly that the best way to end the conflict is through official negotiations. Tuaregs and the interim Mali government should work with third-parties to drive out AQIM and secure Northern Mali.
Simultaneously, through a credible third-party mediator, we must bring all involved parties to the negotiating table and start rebuilding trust by using the 1991 Tamanrasset Accords and 1992 National Pact as foundations for future ongoing discussions on how to resolve the conflict through dialogue and confidence-building measures. The end goal is reunification of Mali in which all peoples and parties participate in the political process.
Samuel Woo is an Analyst at 361Security