Over the past two years, the world has witnessed a redrawing of the geopolitical map of the Middle East and North Africa. The responsibility for regional security and stability – which Western governments once relied on the area’s authoritarian regimes to ensure – now falls to the transitional or newly elected governments that replaced the ousted old orders. Although in some countries the new leadership has succeeded in promoting a degree of stability during this transitional period, in Libya the turbulent social and economic forces that drove out the long-lived regime of Muammar Qaddafi have yet to settle. The rise of powerful militias that have filled the security void in Libya challenge the authority of the new government. Absent Qaddafi’s political and economic influence, Libya and its neighbors are at risk of a new wave of civil conflict and economic deterioration.
On October 16, CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies hosted a workshop to explore the repercussions of the Libyan Revolution — for Libya itself and for states in the broader Sahel region, particularly Mali. The workshop brought together noted academics and experts from the United States and abroad. The report summarizing the main themes of the workshop can be found here.
If you’re following the news on Mali, you’ve no doubt seen the most recent developments in the political crisis in Bamako in which the military junta “encouraged” or “facilitated” the resignation of PM Cheikh Modibo Diarra on Tuesday. (For thorough roundup of analyses and reactions to this incident, I would refer you here).
Two months ago, I wrote a post called “UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali” and I thought I’d add some additional insights to it in light of recent developments.
In recent months, there have been no fewer than a gajillion (to use an analytical term) reports of ECOWAS drafting a plan for intervention and the UNSC telling them they’re on the right track, but not quite there. Amidst reports that a military intervention is inevitable, some differences have come to light vis-à-vis how the international community should approach said intervention.
- France favors swift approval by the UNSC of ECOWAS’ most recent intervention plan – a process complicated by the fact that Captain Sanogo has consistently been opposed to foreign intervention, and has successfully removed one of the key figures calling for such an intervention - PM Diarra.
- The United States has been more cautious in its support, favoring a dual-phase intervention that commences in the south with the training of the Mali Armed Forces (MAF) that would ideally complement (an actual, rather than cosmetic) political transition in Bamako. The second phase would then involve a mandate for military intervention to reconquer the north.
The way I see it, the United States’ reticence to throw unconditional support behind an ECOWAS-led intervention is primarily influenced by two factors.
- The first is the legacy of the arguably haphazard intervention in Libya that did not consider the broader regional implications of military intervention. I sense little appetite on the part of the United States to be held responsible for endorsing an ECOWAS intervention if it goes north and exacerbates the situation, or fails outright.
- To understand the second factor, you really need to take a closer look at the lessons of the African Union intervention in Somalia. In particular, the United States touts the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a potential model for an ECOWAS-led intervention in Mali. Notably, AMISOM came into being because of a regional and international demand signal for such an intervention force in Somalia. However, it was continually plagued with trying to determine how to achieve its objectives when troop contributions and funding were either unpredictable or altogether not forthcoming. As a result, it was only four and a half years into its mandate and over $385 million USD later that it started to see success. I think that although the U.S. sees AMISOM as a model for African-led conflict resolution supported by the international community, it simply lacks the time or the money to make the same mistake – in spite of a similar demand signal for intervention in Mali. Hence the requirement for extensive planning for concept of operations, troop commitments, and a resourcing plan prior to a mandate for intervention.
I think there’s a general consensus that Mali is a festering sore in the Sahel and that someone needs to do something about it, but the means and modalities are still TBD. In the mean time, I don’t foresee U.S. boots on the ground – at least the kind of boots you or I would even be aware of (wink, wink). But I would not be surprised if the U.S. approach to northern Mali is containment. Like in Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa, I see this as an approach in which the U.S. focuses on ensuring that the activities of AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO are confined to northern Mali and do not spread to Algeria, Niger, or Mauritania. I could also see this approach utilizing kinetic means (i.e., drone strikes) to disrupt terrorist operations in northern Mali, as well as non-kinetic means (i.e., public diplomacy programs) focused on countering violent extremism in Niger and Mauritania.
Until the political situation in Bamako becomes less unstable, the U.S. and European allies can agree on an approach to intervention, and ECOWAS can get boots on the ground (perhaps not until late 2013), I think containment is going to be the name of the game in northern Mali.
In June, the African Union (AU) Peace & Security Council called upon the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to endorse the deployment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Standby Force to ensure the security of the transitional institutions; restructure and reorganize the Malian security and defense forces; and restore State authority over the northern part of the country and combat terrorist and criminal networks. In response, the Security Council passed Resolution 2056 (2012) this past Thursday, but stopped short of authorizing an ECOWAS force to intervene in Mali. Instead, the Security Council expressed its readiness to “further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means and modalities of the envisaged deployment and other possible measures.” In other words, the UN has not ruled out endorsing military intervention in Mali with a UN mandate, but if it is to do so at some point in the future, it needs some sense that ECOWAS has thought through this rather complicated affair.
And the Security Council has a point. Amid concerns that Mali’s north may become the “next Somalia” or the “Afghanistan of West Africa,” groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Ansar Dine and MUJWA – Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) continue to hold territory – including major cities in the north. Meanwhile, the transition from military to constitutional rule in the south has largely failed, and there are few indications that the political vacuum that exists in Bamako will be resolved any time soon. These concurrent crises make a military intervention of any kind very complex.
Nigeria, Niger, and Senegal have pledged to provide most of the 3,300 troops that ECOWAS hopes to deploy. Their initial mission would be to bolster Mali’s armed forces and stabilize political institutions, and turn to retaking the north if ongoing negotiations with Tuareg rebels in Burkina Faso fail. However, they may not even get that far. Persistently opposed to foreign intervention, coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has requested that Mali’s army receive foreign support – but not foreign troops – to restore Mali’s territorial integrity. But the small problem with this is that, at least for the United States, it is technically illegal to allocate security force assistance when a military has seized power by unconstitutional means. Furthermore, giving into Sanogo’s wishes means the international community would be, in essence, sanctioning his unconstitutional seizure of power, while diminishing its leverage to get him out of the picture. It’s a game of chicken – with each side seeing how bad things up north can get before the other gives in.
While the UN mulled authorization of an ECOWAS intervention this week, about 2,000 protesters demonstrated in Bamako, calling for a military intervention in the north. According to Al-Jazeera, a leader of a northern citizens’ collective was quoted as saying “If the army doesn’t want to go to war, then give us the means to liberate our territory!” Mali’s National Assembly joined in, issuing a statement calling for the “restoration of territorial integrity,” and calling on the Malian people for “implacable resistance to the occupation and boosting solidarity by all possible means.”
At least in rhetoric, the Malian army is on board with restoring the country’s territorial integrity. Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra conducted a review of the army in Ségou in early June, and military preparations were observed in Sévaré, which is just south of the de facto border of Azawad and what remains of Mali. Yet, just like before the coup, the armed forces will be unevenly matched in the fight for the north. In fact, one can argue that they are worse off than before – still lacking the training, equipment, and air support that contributed to their inability to defeat the Tuareg rebels before the coup. Except now, in addition to being cut off from security force assistance from foreign partners, it faces a plethora of armed groups – some of which possess arms not only from Libya, but also from the stockpiles abandoned by the Malian army as it fled south in late March/early April.
In closing, I would highly recommend reading two great sources on political/military intervention in Mali. The first is “Why Mali’s Path to Peace Must Start in the South” by Todd Moss. This is a brief post written about two weeks ago that lays out several helpful assumptions about Mali’s distinct but inter-related crises, and offers a sequenced approach to addressing these crises. It’s well-thought out and well-argued, and gets at some of the difficult issues that need to be resolved in order to improve the situation in Mali. The second is “Intervening in Mali: West African Nations Plan Offensive against Islamists and Tuareg Rebels” by Andrew McGregor. The most helpful parts of this article are where the author analyzes the likely current capabilities of Mali’s army, gives an overview of the various armed groups that are proliferating in northern Mali (aside from AQIM, MUJWA, and the MNLA), and offers a nascent concept of operations for how Mali would go about recapturing the north – and how foreign military support might fit into these plans.
Monday afternoon, there was an explosion on Moi Avenue in downtown Nairobi. Initially, Kenyan authorities suspected that the cause of this explosion was either an act of terrorism or was caused by an electrical fault. However, it now appears that the incident is being investigated as an act of terrorism – although as of yet, no individual or group has stepped forward to claim responsibility.
If the Moi Avenue blast was indeed an act of terrorism, this marks a slight shift in recent terrorist activity in Kenya. Since Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in October 2011, there had been a handful of small-scale incidents in the border area near Somalia (near Wajir, Garissa, and Mandera), and in Nairobi and Mombasa. Assailants used grenades or opened fire during their attacks, and they had targeted venues such as bars and nightclubs, bus stations, churches, and police stations. Furthermore, these attacks were perpetrated by so-called “lone wolves,” or individuals who may have been inspired by al-Shabaab or other violent extremist groups, but were not necessarily members of said groups.
Monday’s blast marked a tactical advance in such attacks. Officials now suspect that the blast may have been caused by a fertilizer bomb, and that the perpetrators may have been affiliated with al-Shabaab. And while the Moi Avenue blast is nowhere near the scale of al-Shabaab’s 2010 Kampala bombings, it is a move in that direction – and away from previous “lone wolf” grenade attacks perpetrated by al-Shabaab sympathizers. If al-Shabaab is to blame for this bombing, this could indicate that they are either too disorganized or are otherwise incapable of launching a Kampala-sized attack in Kenya, but that they aspire to emulate the scale of the Kampala attacks in Kenya at some point in the future.
And as a segway – a shameless plug for my own research that touches on Kenya’s vulnerability to domestic terror attacks:
In the coming days, my analysis of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia last fall will be published in Vol 3, No 3 (June 2012) of PRISM. My main thesis was that Kenya did not simply invade Somalia to dismantle al-Shabaab as it initially stated, but rather invaded due to the unending conflict spillover, refugee crisis, and political deadlock in Mogadishu that precluded stability in southern Somalia. I argued, therefore, that Kenya sought stability in southern Somalia – which was an endstate that transcended dismantling al-Shabaab, and a mission for which Kenya was not militarily, economically, or politically well-prepared.
The majority of the paper focused on the military hurdles Kenya would have to overcome (i.e., logistics, mobility, poor infrastructure + rainy season, al-Shabaab’s asymmetric tactics and refusal to face Kenyan forces in battle, unanticipated cost and duration of operations, etc). However, part of the paper also discussed Kenya’s increased vulnerability to domestic terrorism in the aftermath of its invasion of southern Somalia. One of the points I raise is that, in light of the complexity of the situation in Somalia (as of late summer/early fall 2011) and its rather limited stated objectives, Kenya might have been better off focusing on better protecting Kenyan territory to make the country less of a soft target for terrorist attacks. As such, I recommend a focus on securing its border with Somalia, rooting out corruption related to cross-border smuggling and forged travel documents, and increasing domestic intelligence and surveillance capabilities to better detect external, and possibly homegrown threats. I also recommended that at sea, Kenya might have prioritized expanding its coast guard so that it not only has sufficient assets to patrol the country’s territorial waters, but is also capable of conducting maritime interdiction operations that target illicit activity in the maritime domain that potentially facilitates terrorist access to Kenyan territory.