Media Review for January 17, 2013

By Africa Center Media Review
Updated: 01/17/2013

Please note: The following news items are presented here for informational purposes. The views expressed within them are those of the authors and/or individuals quoted, not those of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the National Defense University, or the Department of Defense.

Today’s News

Standoff Develops After Militants Seize Hostages in Algeria
As the French military assault on Islamist extremists in Mali escalated into a potentially much broader North African conflict, a tense standoff developed on Thursday between armed attackers who seized dozens of hostages, including Americans and other foreigners, at an internationally managed gas field in neighboring Algeria and permitted or forced some of them to broadcast their plight. [...] Many details of the assault on the gas field in a barren desert site near Libya’s border remained murky, including the precise number of hostages. American, French, British, Japanese and Norwegian citizens who worked at the field were known to be among them, officials said. The New York Times

‘Mr. Marlboro’: The veteran jihadist behind the attack in Algeria
The man claiming responsibility for the operation is a veteran jihadist who is also renowned for hostage-taking and smuggling anything from cigarettes to refugees. His name is Moktar Belmoktar, an Algerian who lost an eye while fighting in Afghanistan in his teens and has long been a target of French counter-terrorism forces. Today, he leads a group called Al-Mulathameen Brigade (The Brigade of the Masked Ones), which is associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM.) In the last few years, he has cultivated allies and established cells far and wide across the region. CNN

Algerian army surrounds hostage-takers
The Algerian army has surrounded a natural gas complex where armed fighters are holding a group of foreign workers, after at least two people were killed in a raid near a southern Algerian gas field. About 20 gunmen are believed to have been behind the attack, which was apparently in retaliation against France’s intervention in Mali. Thirty Algerian workers reportedly escaped from the desert gas facility on Thursday, Reuters news agency quoted the country’s official APS news agency as saying. Al Jazeera

Algeria hostages ‘made to wear explosives’
Islamist militants holding dozens of Western hostages at a gas plant in Algeria have forced some to wear belts strapped with explosives, French television said on Thursday, quoting one of the hostages. France 24 said the man also told the channel during a telephone call late on Wednesday that the hostage-takers were heavily armed and had threatened to blow up the natural gas facility if the Algerian army tried to free the hostages. News 24

Mali war shows France is Africa’s reluctant gendarme
Despite sending warplanes and soldiers to fight Islamists in the Sahara, President Francois Hollande has largely kept his promise to shun the shady system that saw France dictate politics in former African colonies, analysts said. But the Mali conflict shows that the Socialist leader must accept that France is destined to play gendarme in Africa, they noted. The Daily Star

How France became the lead nation for turning back al Qaida in Mali
When France opened the newest front in the war on terror last week with the swoosh of its aircraft over the desert in central Mali, the U.S. found itself in an unfamiliar position: on the sidelines. American officials said they would support the French assault on Mali’s Islamist insurgents with intelligence, drone flights and funding. But there’s no talk of U.S. pilots joining the fray, as they did in Libya after the French initiated an aerial campaign against Moammar Gadhafi, and certainly no talk of American combat forces entering Mali. McClatchy

France’s War in Mali: Child Soldiers on the Frontline
Several hundred child soldiers are reportedly fighting on the frontline for Islamist rebels against French and Malian forces, it has been claimed. Since overrunning northern Mali in April 2012, Islamic groups Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have been recruiting and training local children as young as 11, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported. International Business Times

Hundreds of Rebels Killed in Mali, Dangerous Implications Ahead
The North Africa Journal | Unconfirmed reports say the Franco-African offensive in Mali has claimed the lives of hundreds of Touareg rebels and militant Islamists. Observers in Mali put the number of dead militants to 800. Among those killed are some senior commanders including Mohamed Ag Aghaly Ag Wambadja, Moulaye Ag Ahmed, and Hassane Habré allegedly killed on January 10, 2013 in Kona. The North Africa journal

A Map of the Bewildering Mali Conflict
With French troops committing to a wider ground confrontation with Islamist rebels in Mali, it’s worth trying to get a handle on the scale of the conflict. Some observers expect French forces to get bogged down battling a full-blown insurgency, and the reason can be summed up with one bedazzling map: The Atlantic

Mali: Low-Hanging Fruit for France
At a time when French President Francois Hollande has gained a reputation for dithering over domestic policy the recent French-led intervention in Mali and Friday’s botched rescue operation in Somalia has presented a new type of Hollande — one that behaves like a Commander in Chief. However, has Hollande bitten off more than he can chew? The Huffington Post

US policy in Mali being questioned
[...] Some experts say the attempts to train Mali’s military diverted attention from the destabilizing forces gathering in the north. “A decent case exists that American policy missteps added fuel to the dangerous fire,” African policy analyst Nii Akuetteh testified before Congress last June. Mali is part of the Defense Department’s Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership to combat terrorism in North Africa by bolstering regional militaries and governments through defense and development aid. Stars and Stripes

Mali insurgency followed 10 years of U.S. counterterrorism programs
What went wrong with the counterterrorism efforts the State and Defense departments ran in Mali for 10 years? French troops are moving against Islamist fighters who’ve traveled south from northern Mali. The White House or Congress, or both, should examine why the U.S. programs targeting the groups failed. It’s worth understanding, since the United States is trying similar efforts in other nations. The Washington Post

West Africa prepares for war
West Africa is bracing itself for war. Military chiefs of the West African ECOWAS bloc have concluded a plan for the swift deployment of 3,300 troops. Those troops will come from Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Benin, Chad and Burkina Faso. Nigeria will on Thursday send the first 190 of the 600 troops it has pledged. More than 500 troops from Niger are also expected to cross the border into Mali after they receive the mandatory parliamentary approval required for foreign deployment for Niger’s forces. Al Jazeera

War in the Sahel: a European cause
The Mali conflict has caught the EU asleep at the wheel. But with support from across the Union and credible, limited aims, a European intervention in Mali can be successful. It took almost three years for the European Union to craft a “Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel”, finally enacted in September 2011 after a six month delay due to the conflict in Libya. Among its findings, the strategy concluded that “Improving security and development in Sahel has an obvious and direct impact on protecting European citizens and interests and on the EU internal security situation. European Council on Foreign Relations

The Moor Strategy
Mauritania’s President Mohamed Abdel Aziz on Islamists and underdevelopment in the Sahel. So little known is Mauritania that few Western news outlets bothered to report the wounding of its president last October. Victim of a reportedly accidental shooting while passing an army guard post on a desert road outside this capital, Abdel Aziz required surgery and weeks of convalescence in France, during which neither the White House nor the State Department called him directly. He does not bring this up during a conversation in his office at year’s end, but goes straight to the point he wants to get across: The terrorist groups and criminal gangs in northern Mali must be eradicated. The Weekly Standard

Today Mali, tomorrow Nigeria for al-Qaeda
[...] Suddenly from being a blank space on the map, the Sahara from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east is beginning to look like the springboard for a new Islamist offensive by AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and other Islamist groups. Mali borders seven African countries; next-door Niger, an equally fragile state, another five. According to Africa Confidential, a well-respected newsletter, the Islamists are targeting Mauritania next, with its rich fishing grounds and mineral wealth, and then Niger, which has uranium and oil. But the biggest prize would be the destabilisation of Nigeria to the southeast, shortly to take over from South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy and chief foreign supplier of oil for the US. Nigeria already has its own Islamist insurgency, Boko Haram, which has received weapons and training from AQIM. African Argument

The Moderation of Moroccan Salafis since the Beginning of the Arab Spring
Salafis, including former “Salafi-Jihadis”, have become a presence in the public sphere through their participation in the protests – side-by-side with secular forces – of the so-called 20 February Movement. There are also numerous indications that Salafis will play a role in shaping Morocco’s future political landscape, albeit while proposing less radical objectives than what they used to profess. German Institute for International and Security Affairs

French agent ‘is executed’, says Al Shabaab
Somalia’s Shebab Islamists said Thursday they have executed a French agent they have held since 2009, as France said the hostage was likely killed several days ago in a failed rescue attempt. “16:30 GMT, Wednesday, 16 January, 2013. Denis Allex is executed,” the group said on its Twitter feed Thursday, with the report confirmed by a senior Al Shabaab official who said the group might release audio and video of the “execution.” The East African

US set to formally recognise Somali government after 20-year hiatus
The US will on Thursday officially recognise the Somali government in Mogadishu, ending a hiatus of more than 20 years and opening the door to increased US and international economic help for the country, a senior American official said. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, will announce the move during a meeting with visiting Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. His election last year marked the first vote of its kind since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The Guardian

Libya paid Mauritania $200 million to extradite ex-spy chief: lawyer
Libya authorized payment of almost US$200 million to Mauritania months after it extradited the Libyan ex-spy chief to face trial at home in defiance of an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest, Libyan government documents show. Abdullah al-Senussi is wanted by the ICC on suspicion of orchestrating brutal reprisals during the 2011 uprising that led to the fall and death of Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the North African country with an iron fist for 42 years. DefenceWeb

State Department Briefing on Africa
Question: [Senior State Department Official], what specific military support is the United States going to provide the French? Have – are there any requests by the French that the United States does not intend to fulfill? And there was a recent kidnapping I just heard about of American citizens from Algeria by a group coming out of Mali. Can you provide us some information on that?

Behind the times: Washington’s slow changing attitude to Africa
Africa’s international relationships are increasingly hinged on trade and investment rather than strategic security and aid, but attitudes in Washington are slow to change While many Africans were celebrating President Barack Obama’s re-election victory, arguably a more important leadership shift was taking place across the Indian Ocean. Xi Jinping, chosen by the Beijing elite to lead China for the next decade, may not be a household name outside of his home country, but he will be presiding over what may be Africa’s single most important strategic relationship in the 21st century. This Is Africa

More than 100 killed in Darfur gold mine battles: UN
More than 100 people have died in battles for control of gold mines in Sudan’s conflict-ravaged Darfur region, the UN said Wednesday. Several North Darfur villages have been torched in the battles between rival tribes this month, and gunmen have blocked roads to prevent UN observers from getting to the region, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. Times Live

Land Disputes Threaten Liberia’s Post-War Peace
Land disputes remain a major threat to peace in post-war Liberia. Despite the creation of a Land Commission to deal with ownership conflicts, Liberians say many problems still persist. The American Refugee Committee, a humanitarian aid group that works with displaced Liberians, says that an estimated 800,000 people fled their homes during Liberia’s 14 years of civil war. VOA

The Ugly Face of Street Justice in Sierra Leone
On a steamy, starless night in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, a teenager runs desperately down a potholed street before being violently brought to the ground by a bystander. As word spreads that a thief has been caught, young men come running from all directions. Within a minute the narrow street is packed, and the boy, still protesting his innocence, receives the first of a hail of blows that will continue unabated for about forty minutes. IPS

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