January 25, 2013

PARIS – The bloody attack on an Algerian gas installation and France’s invasion of Mali are the result of troubles that have been brewing for years – we simply have not been paying attention.

Jihadist guerilla leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, headlined as a new Great Islamic Satan by French media, has been making trouble in the Sahara for a long time, kidnapping westerners, robbing caravans, smuggling cigarettes.

Belmokhtar was known as a “man of honor,” one of the western-financed jihadists who went to battle the Soviets and their communist allies in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and 90’s.  He retuned to his native Algeria, minus an eye lost in combat, and, with his fellow “Afghani,” sought to overthrow Algeria’s western-backed military regime, a major oil and gas supplier to France.

In 1991,  Algeria’s junta, bankrupt of ideas, allowed a free election.  Big mistake.  Algeria’s Islamists won the first round parliamentary vote.   The military panicked.  Backed by France and the US, Algeria’s military crushed the Islamic movement and arrested its leaders.

As a result, one of our era’s bloodiest civil wars erupted as Islamists and other insurgents battled the brutal Algerian military and intelligence forces, who called themselves, “the Eradicators.”

During a decade of savagery, over 200,000 Algerians died.  Entire villages were massacred.  Both sides committed frightful atrocities.  The Algiers government used special forces disguised as rebels to stage mass murders. Pickup trucks with guillotines were used to chop off people’s heads.

After the uprising was crushed, one particularly violent Islamist guerilla group, formerly GIC,  reformed itself into AQIM – al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.  This caused a frenzied reaction in the West.   But AQIM had next to nothing to do with Osama bin Laden’s Afghan-Pakistan group. But the al-Qaida name brought instant media attention – a primary goal of radical groups.

After Mali’s soldiers overthrew its feeble, corrupt government last March,  the vast north went into chaos.  Nomadic Tuareg tribesmen declared the independent state of Azawad.  Assorted jihadists, including some of Belmokhtar’s men, imposed draconian sharia law on the north.   Mali’s southerners called on former colonial master France for help.

Two months ago, President Francois Hollande declared France would not again intervene in Africa.  Since granting nominal independence in 1960 to the states that comprised former French West Africa, France has intervened militarily 50 times. French technicians, bankers and intelligence agents run most of West Africa from behind the scenes.  There are 60,000 French in Algeria and west Africa, seen by Paris as its sphere of influence.

Niger is a major supplier of uranium to France’s nuclear industry which provides 80% of the nation’s power.  French mining interests cover West Africa, which is also a key export market for French goods and arms.

After jihadists proclaimed they would nationalize Mali’s resources, Hollande turned from dove to hawk.  French forces went into action behind a barrage of media propaganda about brutalities committed by the Islamists – just as French forces in Afghanistan were being driven out by Taliban fighters.

Hollande’s popularity ratings, driven down to 32% by France’s dire economic problems, tax hikes, and plant closings, soared to over 80%.  Military adventures and patriotic flag-waving are always surefire remedies for politicians in trouble at home.   Belmokhtar was declared the Osama bin Laden of the Sahara.  Mali became a humanitarian mission lauded in the West.  The US began quietly tiptoeing into the conflict.

Though a tempest in a teapot involving only a few thousand French troops,  the Mali fracas threatens the unsteady French and US-backed regimes of resource-rich West Africa. Most particularly so Ivory Coast, Chad and Central African Republic, where 5,000 French soldiers and aircraft are based. An Islamist uprising in oil-rich Nigeria is growing fast, a major worry for Washington, whose regional energy resources are under threat.

Getting into little wars is always easy. Getting out is not, as Afghanistan has shown.  Even French generals are now saying their troops will be in Mali, which has no real government,  for a long time.

Patriotic euphoria in France is already abating.   France’s belligerent unions are back on the war path over plant closings.  Efforts to cut France’s huge deficit will hardly be helped by the little crusade in Mali.



copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2013






This post is in: Afghanistan, Africa, Algeria, International Politics, Mali, North Africa

7 Responses to “Storm over the Sahara”

  1. revised…

    Our leaders want Islamic regimes installed to cause trouble, so that we have a “legitimate” excuse to attack them. On to Algeria, then Iran, all in the interests of the USA stripping the wealth and raw materials from these countries. France, Iran, and China want Mali’s gold and uranium mines

  2. It seems, that the old colonial powers have a hard time living up to the standards of their own preaching, namely the call for democracy.
    To try and subdue an old colony is hard to resist even if it has to be done under false pretenses, if that colony no longer wants itself to be bled dry of its natural resources,. And why not? After all, GWB managed to lie his way into Iraq and Afghanistan.
    That old British colony, now known as the USA is doing the same, as what their forefathers fought against, namely the abuse and corruption of an empire.
    Are the western countries not deep enough in debt yet, that they have to waste more money on all those unjustifiable and cruel wars?
    And what is all the propaganda against Islam, if they have nothing better to replace it with? Don`t tell me Christianity is, because its history record is a dismal one at best.

  3. George Rizk says:

    North Korea? There is law and order! There is oppression! There is productivity and even good scientific know how!

    If we create insurgency, a la al Qaida type, the dictatorship will increase its oppression, and that clean streets that we see in the videos, will become like Aleppo?

    When the South Koreans decided to have peace with their neighbors, we objected?

    • Mike Smith says:

      ” When the South Koreans decided to have peace with their neighbors, we objected? ”

      Actually Yes. South Korea was pursuing a ” sunshine policy ” of political and economic engagement with the North
      It was intended as a long term engagement that worked while Clinton was in office, and then was derailed when Bush jr changed foreign policy, have the axis of evil speech and general stirred up all the ill will that this policy was trying to end.
      Also in my previous post I was alluding to the continued Nuclear testing and Missile development that has been in the news the past month. Even if a peace deal could be found, the North Koreans would still feel they need those weapons as the West in general and the United States specifically has lost any credibility.
      Someone once said the US was a bad enemy, and a even worse friend.

  4. George Rizk says:

    The West’s conduct is very confusing, and inconsistent. Here we have France and the US arming, and supporting al Qaida in Syria, which will transform it to a crazy fanatic Islamic country, in the same day, we are fighting the crazy Al Qaida Islamists in Mali, Somalia, Sudan?

    How is it that dislodging a SECULAR dictator to create chaos is an acceptable policy?

  5. Mike Smith says:

    The biggest problem is the Western powers have put themselves up as honorless hypocrites, leaving zero room for any sort of negotiation or compromise as it is clear their wird is not to be trusted…. at all.

    Proven by the overthrow of Algerias elected government, so much for democracy right? Look at all the other places the same has happened, Iran ? how has that worked out ?

    Then look at Libya, peace and negotiation with the crazy dictator. He shut down his weapons programs and traded the fight for prosperity… and look where that got him.

    Perhaps the way of the Mad Mahdi is the only path to victory, kill them all.

    Even more scary, with this context in mind, does North Koreas recent action start to make sense ?

    We need a revolution at home, even the popular culture of network television has recently featured a show whose plot followed the crew of a American missile submarine turning on its own government in order to expose lies, corruption, and mass murder. While it seemed the plot was quickly concluded due to cancellation, the end result of a failed coup led by an honorable military, and the John Wilkes Booth actions of a member of the Military Arms Complex who could not go on with the situation despite her own prosperity being ensured. Fiction today, History Tomorrow ?

    We need to stop being sheep and letting the excuse of any party in our elections putting forth the same garbage stop us for change.

  6. George Rizk says:

    Great post Eric,

    The Uranium source for France’s nuclear power plants is not limited to Mali, and without it, France will have shut their plants? I am guessing that France may have realized that now that Libya has become Islamists, in addition to Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt; it is important to stop the avalanche of crazy Islam & Arabs from taking over the continent one country after the other.

    El Zawahry’s brother was on Cairo’s streets yesterday threatening America and the west with further violence if we stopped the Islamists from FORCING Sharia on Mali? Of course, Egypt, and the CIA ARE LOOKING THE OTHER WAY.

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