It’s now been nearly a year since the NATO’s Libya mission was completed, but the afterparty is still dragging on in nearby countries. This week, the FT reported that France is growing particularly concerned with the growth of al-Qaeda groups in northern Mali, where Islamic militants have established a firm foothold in the region:
For years, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had been regarded as one of the weaker al-Qaeda franchises, mainly engaged in local kidnappings. But a coup in Mali last March divided the country, enabling AQIM and other insurgent movements to take control of cities in the northern part of the country, including Gao and Timbuktu.
AQIM has established resources in the north – including airstrips, military bases, arms dumps and training camps – that alarm western states. “A territory twice the size of France … is totally controlled by terrorist groups and is a magnet for all the bad guys in the region, with a Salafist and terrorist agenda,” said the French official. “They are attracting youngsters from all over the world. It is a cancer.”
Faced with this threat, France is supporting plans for thousands of African troops to launch an attack against al-Qaeda in the region. Unfortunately, coordinating this effort has proven especially difficult because of concerns about the ability of the Malian army to carry out the operation, as well as the fact that the Malian government is none too keen on allowing foreign troops onto its soil. Some observers are still optimistic that the sides will eventually settle their differences, but the incessant squabbling is delaying moves to attack, and in the meantime al-Qaeda will have more breathing room to plan and prepare.
Turning North Africa into a training ground for jihadi militants has been the ultimate is result of the Libya conflict. Via Meadia’s question: what will the Malian afterparty look like?