The Future of al-Qaeda in Mali
The Future of al-Qaeda in Mali:
What type of future awaits the organizers of al-Qaeda in the Republic of Mali; the African nation that shares borders with both Algeria and Mauritania?
To begin with, it is possible to point out that what is intended by the organizers of al-Qaeda here is what is known as “al-Qaeda of Islamic Maghrib” which is active in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger.
The origin of this organization returns to “Al-Jamāʿah as-Salafiyyah li Ṣalāḥ ad-Daʿwah wa al-Qitāl” which was founded in Algeria and formerly announced its affiliation with al-Qaeda in the year 2006 when it changed its name the following year to “al-Qaeda of Islamic Maghrib” which continued to operate under the leadership of Abū Muṣʿab ʿAbdul-Wudūd.
In light of the most recent developments in Mali, it has been attributed to local sources that the statement: certainly thousands of Tuareg who fled from the regular Libyan army are currently preparing to announce a nation which is specific to them in the north of the country and is beginning military operations against the central government. And they link the possibility of carrying out this action and responding to the authorities of Mali who have requested that they establish their own autonomy in the region.
Today there are two opposing possibilities for the future of this organization in the republic of Mali.
The first scenario indicates that this organization is on its way towards gaining strength and moving forward based upon its possible or probable alliance with the armed Tuareg who returned from Libya after the collapse of Muʿammar al-Qadhāfī’s regime.
On the contrary, the second scenario indicates that this organization is now facing difficult circumstances which could end in its decline and eventually being driven out of the Republic of Mali. That is based upon the government of Mali’s possible acquisition of a core group of armed Tuareg who have returned from Libya and their subsequent use of them in fighting against the al-Qaeda organization in the north of their country, across the desert borders of Niger, Mauritania, and Algeria.
Which of these scenarios is more likely?
This issue depends upon whoever is able to acquire the largest number of Tuareg who returned with their strategic and military experience which spans over thirty years and includes many different types of the modern weapons of Libya.
This is the new challenge facing the Republic of Mali and its Arab and African neighbors.
Indeed, the economic and living conditions of the Tuareg of Mali are similar to the general social communities of Mali and continues to play a pivotal role in the formation of the political environment and security for this republic.
Let us now begin to present a brief synopsis of the Republic of Mali and its current state.
The Republic of Mali is an expansive nation that is located in West Africa. The Republic of Mali’s total area covers 1,240,000 square kilometers. Mali is the world’s 24th largest country after Angola (which is 1,246,620 square km) but before the Republic of South Africa (which is 1,219,912 square km) and it does not differ much in size from its eastern neighbor Niger (which is 1,267,000 square km).
Mali shares a total of 7,243 kilometers of land boundaries with seven bordering states: Mauritania (2,237 kilometers), Algeria (1,376 kilometers) , Burkina Faso (1,000 kilometers), Guinea (858 kilometers), Niger (821 kilometers), Côte d’Ivoire (532 kilometers), and Senegal (419 kilometers).
The population of Mali has reached 15,400,000 people according to 2010 indicators and it is estimated that the rate of population growth there is 2.6% compared to the 3.6% growth rate of their neighbor Niger; while the world’s population growth rate is 1.09%.
Mali’s numerous natural resources include rare metals like gold uranium, phosphate, kaolin, and granite. There are also other metals that are sure to exist there because of geological surveys; however, there have been no efforts to extract it until now. And from these metals is iron, copper, magnesium, and bauxite.
Despite all of this, certainly Mali is currently classified among the world’s poorest countries.
In 2010, the gross domestic product (GDP or purchasing power parity) of the country reached $16.7 million which ranks 134th in the world. And this amount equals less than 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP; purchasing power parity) of a country like Austria whose population is approximately 8 million people.
In the same year, the per capita income in Mali reached $1,200 a year. This ranks 208th in the world and has remained at this level after Uganda ($1,300) but before Rwanda ($1,100).
During the same year, Mali occupied the number (0.309) in terms of measuring human development. This number is less than half of the global average that reaches (0.620). The fact that this number is low on this scale reflects the weakness of development indicators.
Similarly, in the year 2010, Mali occupied the number 53.6 on the Ibrahim index of African governance which consists of one hundred degrees. And number 100 indicates that a specific nation is in the best situation. This index was designed by the Mo Ibrahim foundation specifically for the nations of Africa.
According to the indicators from the same year, Mali occupies the number (2.24) on the global peace index which consists of 5 degrees. The number 1 indicates that a specific country enjoys exemplary or ideal safety and security while the number 5 indicates a gross absence of peace and tranquility.
And after returning to the issue of the organization and/or mobilization of al-Qaeda in the republic of Mali, it is possible to point out that this organization has built bases in the north of the country from which it organizes its attacks and various operations in the vast deserts along the nation’s borders.
Local sources in Mali view the threat of al-Qaeda in the general coastal area has worsened after the organization received millions of dollars in the form of ransoms from multiple kidnapping operations that were carried out.
These sources indicate that the members of al-Qaeda who were driven out of the western border regions near Mauritania, they moved towards the north-east of the country near the border region close to Algeria and Niger which is a region that is lacking a very significant amount of security.
And the activity of armed al-Qaeda agents impeded uranium mining at a time when their activity in Mali resulted in reducing the country’s tourism which is a sector that contributes to approximately 18% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP; purchasing power parity).
And there is some coordination between Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Algeria in opposition to this organization. And these four countries formed a joint operational commission called the Committee of Joint Chiefs (CEMOC) which has taken Algeria as its capitol. This leadership determines the contribution of each country in terms of its land and air forces with specific emphasis upon the joint operations against al-Qaeda.
And in June of 2010 the Algerian air force carried out an attack on al-Qaeda operational strongholds in the region called Adrar des Ifoghas in the north of the Republic of Mali. This attack was carried out as a coordinated effort with the Malian armed forces which were simultaneously launched ground attacks to break into sites that were left exposed by the air strike’s bombs.
And in the beginning of August 2011, the Malian and Mauritanian forces drove the armed al-Qaeda fighters to withdraw from their bases in the south of the country near the border of Mauritania.
Mauritania continually conducted military operation against the organizations bases in the lands of Mali since July of 2010. All of this occurred with the consent of local authorities and a green light from them.
Mali is considered a country of limited arms. In the year 2009, the ratio of military spending to the gross national product (GNP) was 1.9%. And this ratio has become 13.4% of central government spending.
In the period between 2007-2009, Mali imported 44 amphibious armored patrol cars [model number (BRDM-2) from Bulgaria] just as it also imported 34 armored personnel carriers [model number (BTR-60PB)] and four helicopter gunships [model number (Mi-24D) and (Hind-D)].
And in 2005, three fighter planes were imported from the Czech Republic with the model number (MiG-21MF) and (Fishbed-J). And in the year 2002, Mali acquired five multi-purpose mine-protected armored personnel carriers [model number (RG-31 Nyala) from South Africa].
In the year 2000, Mali received two multipurpose twin-engine helicopters [model number (AS-365) and (AS-565)] from China. And Mali had already imported from China 18 light tanks [model number (Type-62)] in 1981.
And during the years 1997-1998, Mali imported from the United States three fixed-wing cargo aircrafts [model number (BT-67)].
Mali also possesses the medium tank model number (T-34-85), Air Missile Defense system model number (5V27/SA-3B Goa), Radar model number P-10/Knife Rest), Muzzle-loading Mortar model number (M-43 120 mm), and light tank model number (M3and M5).
All of these things are considered outdated weapons systems according to today’s standards and have disappeared from active service in most countries of the world.
And after returning to the subject of a possible alliance between the al-Qaeda operatives in the country of Mali and the armed Tuareg fighters who returned from Libya, it is possible to indicate that from the beginning, the Tuareg who reside in this nation are considered a segment of the original residents and they have, more specifically, set up bases in the north of the country.
The Tuareg generally inhabit the great “Sahara” desert and are spread out throughout Algeria, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Burkina Faso and their population is estimated to be approximately 1,500,000.
Against the backdrop of the local authorities attempts to apply force in order to learn their whereabouts, some of the Tuareg tribes have rebelled in Mali and Niger ever since the nineties from the last century which prompted many families to migrate to Algeria and Libya.
In light of recent developments in Mali, it has been attributed to local sources the statement that the thousands of Tuareg fighters who fled from the regular Libyan army are currently preparing to announce the existence of their own separate state in the north of the country and the start of military operations against the central government. They link the possibility of initiating this action and the response of Malian Authorities to their demand to establish autonomy in the region.
In October of 2011, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (which is region in the north of Mali) appeared against the backdrop of two Tuareg movements merging which was supported by those fighters who returned from Libya.
Under these circumstances, it would seem that al-Qaeda organization in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) was in a golden position that they could not have previously imagined. So their ability to establish an alliance with the Tuareg armed fighters who returned from Libya, meant a qualitative expansion in their activities that grows outside of the control of the countries that they operate in.
According to the Beninese journalist Serge Daniel, then the organization along with the battalions (combat units) and a group of military detachments (small combat units) including a detachment that is led by ʿAbdul-Karīm aṭ-Ṭāriqī (nicknamed the Tuareg) who is a Tuareg from the tribe of Ifoghas who descended from the state of Adar in Northeastern Mali; all of them follow the al-Qaeda organization in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM).
And last September, the city of Timetrine embraced an assembly of delegates from ʿAbdul-Karīm aṭ-Ṭāriqī (nicknamed the Tuareg) and a number of the Tuareg soldiers who returned from the Libyan army in order to examine their possible involvement with the al-Qaeda organization according to the opinion of Daniel.
In response to this development, the president of Mali Amadou Toumani Touré received representatives from the most significant armed groups from the Tuareg who returned from Libya under the leadership of Colonel Ousad .
Ousad said during an official reception attended by journalists: “Mr President, we came to meet you to say that we are looking for peace and dialogue. And we put ourselves at the disposal of our country.” The Colonel added: “We are Malians who were in the Libyan army, we know no other job. We are ready to make our arms available to the Malian army. We want peace.”
And Colonel Ousad is part of the 300-strong Imrad tribe. In the same context, the president of Mali sent envoys to meet with the armed Tuareg combatants from other tribes that returned after having spent much time in Libya.
According to a source close to the Ministry of Local Administration in Mali, indeed, amongst the Tuareg who returned from Libya are those who were in special military units who were assigned to bring security in the north of the country and fighters for al-Qaeda organization in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM).
These are the expectations of the government of Mali. But is it possible for this government to overcome the other possibility during the course of this situation? Or is it possible that al-Qaeda will be successful in weaving an alliance of common interests with the armed Tuareg soldiers who returned from Libya.