Oh No! Not Another Osama!
by Eric Margolis: Welcome
Americans to West Africa’s Mysteries
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.
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.
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 returned 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.
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.
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.
Mali 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.
proclaimed they would nationalize Mali’s mines, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2013 Eric Margolis
Best of Eric Margolis