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Security 2013-01-25

Maghreb menace begins in Mali

By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 25/01/13

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Diplomats, officials and analysts from 67 countries are gathering Friday (January 25th) for the 4th Marrakech Security Forum, organised by the African Federation for Strategic Studies (FAES) and the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Studies (CMES).

Magharebia met with Mohammed Benhammou, who presides over both think tanks, to ask about the future of regional terror groups, the long-term outlook for the Mali intervention and the global fallout of Sahel instability.

Magharebia: What's your take on the international military intervention in northern Mali?

Mohammed Benhammou: It's certain that the armed extremist groups in the region, as well as in neighbouring countries, will take advantage as usual of this intervention, and label it as a crusade, a war on Islam and an assault on the dignity of Muslims in Mali.

We can only expect this from these groups that exploit all available opportunities to inflame the street and gain supporters and new recruits in order to achieve their plans, even by altering the facts.

The fact of the matter is that the situation in Mali and the threats witnessed in the Sahel have imposed the military and security option. However, it should not be the only option, but should be aligned with other strategies in order to solve all the crises witnessed by the region.

Magharebia: What kind of enemy are we up against?

Benhammou: We are facing unconventional warfare, where regular forces are confronting multiple and varied gangs. Regular armies participating in this military operation can retake control of cities and regions and liberate them from armed groups. However, it will always be difficult to tell the nature of these achievements. Are they real victories and progress on the road to eliminating the risk of these groups, or just a tactic of extremist groups that may choose to retreat and avoid a direct confrontation with these armies?

Extremist groups seek to turn the theatre of operations into a quagmire, into which they drag large armies.

We have noticed in this recent period, ahead of the military operation, how a number of fighters from these groups moved to neighbouring countries. Others melted into the civilian population and abandoned their fighting uniforms. Another group fled to refuge in rugged places abounding with safe havens from the strikes of the advancing armies.

Magharebia: Before the start of military operations, there was talk of a political solution. Is this still possible?

Benhammou: There should be a serious dialog to find a political solution to this crisis. I think that the present stage requires that there be an end to all territorial, ethnic, racial and political conflicts witnessed by the region of the Sahel, the Sahara, North and West Africa. These conflicts are obstacles to the building of the future of this region. And these conflicts date back to a long gone era - the Cold War - that we should now have passed. This is the case for the Touareg.

As for armed extremist groups, particularly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, MUJAO and others, I think that dialogue with them is out of the question. First, these groups lack the desire to exit the logic of violence. Secondly, the countries of the region, and rightly so, refuse to give any legitimacy to these groups, or to engage with them in any kind of dialogue.

Magharebia: What do you foresee for these terror groups in the future? Can we eliminate them?

Benhammou: The life and resistance of these groups is based on their small size. Every time they get bigger, they split and go back to a normal size, or small cells and groups. So I think that the multiplicity of these groups - and their spawning of smaller ones - is normal once they find fertile soil and a favourable climate.

We are facing a creeping enemy with a masked face and unclear features. This is an enemy whose strength lies in its strong capacity to move and relocate, and to adapt and cope with all conditions. Their strength is also in their capacity to adapt to the social and human fabric where they find themselves.

So, we are facing groups that have better chances of survival when in small numbers. They cannot be in the form of a regular army familiar with rules, with central and known leadership, with clearly defined headquarters, and subject to a traditional style of organisation. So I expect that the breeding and proliferation of these groups will continue.

The more pressure on them in this region, the more of this we will see.

Magharebia: But how did things get to this point in the Sahel region, and what are the ways out of this situation?

Benhammou: That is exactly what will be discussed by military leaders and international security experts from 67 countries during the Marrakesh Security Forum on January 25th-26th.

In the Sahel region, we are not facing a specific crisis, but rather multiple and complex crises. Some are old and chronic, such as the Touareg crisis, as well as territorial and ethnic conflicts. Some result from the failure of the state and its weakness.

Countries of the Sahel are considered among the poorest countries in the world, and are unable to play their role as states and conduct the task of monitoring national territory, especially when this consists of a vast, arid and barren land with low population density.

Hence, large parts of these countries have been turned into havens for terrorist groups. These groups originally fled Algeria after the intensification of the war by the Algerian authorities and found a safe haven in the Sahel, where they rebounded, spawned and proliferated.

There are also international criminal gangs, specialised in smuggling drugs and weapons, as well as abetting human trafficking and illegal immigration. The Sahel has become known as the cocaine path, as tonnes of drugs from South America cross the region in the direction of Europe.

The Sahel of today is also a theatre for the circulation and proliferation of heavy weapons, especially since the collapse of the Kadhafi regime. Mercenaries who fought with Kadhafi returned to their areas of origin in the countries of the Sahel.

All of these factors have turned the area into a den of threats to regional and international peace and security. Yet solving this dilemma requires - along with the military solution - comprehensive strategies for human economic and social development and the rehabilitation of Sahel institutions.

The military option became necessary to defuse threats to the security and stability of the world, but it must be coupled with strategies that respond to the expectations of the population in order to reach a sustainable position of safety.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    azed 2013-2-8

    I thank you for these valuable and informative topics.

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  2. Anonymous thumb

    شاهد حق 2013-1-29

    Rats should be grateful to their mistress France. They have to help France in fighting in Mali as it has helped them in their fight against the leader Kadhafi. They should spare France from getting tired or holding arms or making any other effort. They should be the ones to do everything it wants. This is the return of favour done by "men", what men....

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    الجزائري 2013-1-28

    My brother, your strategic study is like a filter that covers the truth. The economic crisis in Europe, mainly the "colonial" France present in many African countries and exploits their economy, is the main incentive for the military operation. When was Mali object of protection? For years people in Mali have been enduring famine without ever being noticed by France. Today, it brought up the “Al Qaeda” crisis, even though there was a political solution for it and Algeria was dealing with it slowly but surely, with stumbling steps but was laying the foundation for comprehensive solutions. Talking about the military solution is out of question outside the states limits, especially because Malians have the right to choose their rulers. The Malian regime has played a subjugating role toward its people, whether to the West or to armed groups. The french intervention goes along the same line, empowering one side over the other. The so-called Malian army has committed massacres and violated many of Arabs rights. It wages a sectarian attrition war against them. Are you aware of this Mr. strategic analyst? Yes, Mali could be the first spark of a fire that some would like to extend to Morocco and Algeria after the failure of previous attempts to sow sedition there. If Moroccan and Algerian governments are smart enough, this what they should do: 1- Protect Arabs in Mali. 2- Provide economic support for their neighbours. 3- Adopt a common vision on regional security. 4- Eliminate military solutions and foster negotiations between the sons of the region. 5- Not give in to European countries' blackmail, especially France's. Many politicians and media professionals have dubbed Hollande as a “neocolonialist”. So don’t whiten his page by supporting him even in the media. .

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    أبوحليقة 2013-1-26

    I think that it is Moamer Kadhafi who supported these groups probably indirectly. But when the revolution erupted in Libya, he invited them to fight with him and support him because without him they don't exist.

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  5. Anonymous thumb

    Hammal 2013-1-25

    “Forum of 67 Countries Adopts a Resolution for the Lasting Crisis in Mali” — Mali is an African and Francophone country, whose administration is dependent on French law and in French language. The people are of composed of two races: the Akhal, who are Black African and Muslim or Catholic, and the Adham, who are brown and Arab and/or Amazigh Muslim. Mali is governed by French law, and the Arab-Amazigh Muslims denounce in law and in constitution their being slaves to French law and express their will to exercise the right to a constitution that is Arab-Amazigh, Islamic and from the Grand Sahara. This is, therefore, a sovereign process started by the independent states of North Africa, which have been able to partially re-establish sovereign Arab law. So if the government of Mali finds this reform suitable, it may want to transform the regime into an Arab-Muslim government like those of North Africa. I note that the Malian regime is founded on the nature of a sovereign Muslim government and the secret sacred allegiance to the Prophet Mohamed and the two races, the Blacks and the Browns, have long been in confrontation and caused terrible and disastrous things. So, it’s time to convince them of interracial dialogue in order to forestall a prolongation of the global Brown-Black massacre. White and blue seem beneficial toward leading a dialogue. –Spot Celest Arch ***67:Moh:Ould Al Marrakchi

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