Potential Hot Spots: Mali In The Middle Of Islamic Madness

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July 8, 2009: Fights with Muslim religious radicals are nothing new in Mali. Religious fervor has played a role in tribal conflicts in Mali. "Spillover" turmoil from Islamist terror in Algeria has affected many parts of the Maghreb (western Sahara region). Since 9/11 there have been numerous rumors of terrorist training camps in Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and southern Algeria. Niger has battled small groups of terrorists, who publicly claimed links to both the Armed Islamic Group (in Algeria) and Al Qaeda. Trouble in Niger always interests the intelligence agencies since Niger has uranium deposits. Algeria and the US are aware of Islamic radical activity in Mali -- Algeria has made an effort to increase its own military presence in southern Algeria and improve its ability to coordinate security operations with Mali. In the last six months reports of clashes and anti-terrorist operations action in Mali have increased. In January 2009 Islamist militants in Mali kidnapped several tourists; and they have also taken other hostages as well. In June, the militants executed one of the hostages and assassinated a senior Malian intelligence officer. Also last month the Mali Army claimed it attacked a terrorist base near the Algerian border and killed 12 militants. This month Mali security forces have fought at least two large-scale firefights with Islamic militants operating in northern Mali northeast of Timbuktu (specifically in the Tessalit region). The remote desert area has been "under observation" by US and western intelligence for some time. It is one of those "nowheres" that Al Qaeda likes to find, a nowhere where a few million dollars buys lots of tribal protection. Al Qaeda does have a western North African "affiliate": Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (or AQIM). Morocco has arrested several thousand Islamist militants, but is also fighting the radicals theologically by emphasizing its own tradition of Muslim moderation. Logistics problems plague the Mali Army, as does lack of mobility. Aerial recon is a big plus, especially if the military has access to unmanned aerial vehicles like Predator which have a long "loiter time" over an area.

Last weekend,  Mali troops fought several skirmishes with Islamic militants, resulting in dozens of casualties. The government repeated its determination to defeat Islamic radicals who show up in Mali. So far, the Islamic militants have been able to establish camps, but have made no significant progress in forcing the Mali government to allow the Islamic radical groups to operate a safe haven for Islamic terrorists.

 

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