Saturday, January 19, 2013

The In Anemas Attack

The Jamestown Foundation has some interesting information about the background of the recent attack on Algeria's In Anemas gas field. Camille Tawil recounts the career of Mukhtar Belmukhtar, the raid's leader.  According to Tawil, Belmukhtar had risen steadily in prominence over the past decade, in part because the Sahel states were weaker and less able to inhibit his movements that those of North Africa.  However, over the past couple of years, he had grown apart from the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and last month actually founded his own independent militia, the "Those Who Sign in Blood Battalion," aimed specifically at deterring intervention in Mali.  Tawil suggests the attack could have been a power play by Belmukhtar, demonstrating action where none was being taken by AQIM leader Abdelmalik Droukdel. 

Andrew MacGregor also analyses the attack, noting that the AQIM branch which claimed responsibility alongside Belmukhtar's splinter group, the Brigade of the Wearers of the Veil, was Belmukhtar's command within AQIM until he split with the group late last year.  I interpret this as evidence of the fact many of these terrorist groups are not tightly controlled, and that Belmukhtar's former subordinates were ready to follow him in a new venture.  MacGregor also points out the difficulties in claims that the attackers came all the way from Mali, suggesting that if they did not come from Algeria, Libya is the most likely possibility.  Tawil also noted reports that some of the attackers had Libyan accents, and in her account of Belmukhtar's career, mentions a 2011 visit to Libya involved with the arms trade.

The entire western Saharan region is thus interconnected, as its been a commonplace that Libyan weapons were what leaked into Mali helping enable that country's subsequent civil war, and war that has now led to violence back in Algeria.  MacGregor also speculates about the future:
The raid suggests that Belmokhtar continues to work closely with AQIM elements despite the differences that led the veteran jihadist to assemble his own formation in early December. However, there is a strong possibility that Belmokhtar’s raid on In Aménas will have the inevitable result of dragging a so-far reluctant Algeria into the conflict in northern Mali. Mauritania, another hold-out despite a history of intervening in northern Mali against al-Qaeda elements, has now reversed its position and agreed to deploy combat troops in northern Mali (Jeune Afrique, January 16). Chad has also decided to send a so-far indeterminate number of its highly capable desert fighters to Mali, thus furnishing, together with Algeria and Mauritania, the missing elements of an African intervention force that was far too reliant on West African troops with little knowledge of Saharan-style desert warfare. If Algiers does commit to the military destruction of the Islamist forces in northern Mali, Belmokhtar’s ill-timed raid on In Aménas may be remembered as the beginning of the end for the Mali-based Islamists.
Though unsuccessful in the short-term, the raid will have a long-term impact on the Algerian energy industry as expat workers are recalled or leave on their own accord and Algerian military resources are diverted to protect isolated desert installations. There is a strong possibility of further strikes in Algeria to relieve pressure on embattled AQIM units in northern Algeria, where recent and effective counterterrorist operations have put the movement on its heels. Most important, however, is the realization that it is Libya, rather than northern Mali, that has become a base for terrorist operations in the Sahara/Sahel region.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home