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Algeria Sacrifices Hostages To Kill Al-Qaeda

Contributed by Chriss Street. Specialist in corporate reorganizations and turnarounds, former Chairman of two NYSE listed companies. His latest book, The Third Way, describes how to achieve management excellence and financial reward by moving organizations from Conflict and Confrontation to Leadership and Cooperation. He lives in Newport Beach, CA. 

The four-day Algerian hostage crisis ended with the death of another 23 foreign hostages, bringing the total foreign dead to 53, and all the Salafist-jihadi kidnappers after Algerian special forces blasted their way into the sprawling Tigantourine gas complex. 

In 2000, Algeria won a brutal decade-long Civil War against Islamic Salafist rebel groups, which cost as many as 200,000 lives in the relatively small nation.  Algeria is willing to suffer the rebuke of foreign governments over the loss of hostages, because they understand that the European and American intervention in neighboring Mali is the start of a war of attrition that with al-Qaeda that will spread across all of North Africa.

In July 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy heightened awareness of Al-Qeada in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by declaring war on the group, and AQIM reciprocated by declaring war on France.  As outlined in my recent report, New Islamic Caliphate Challenges Western Crusaders, the kidnappers are imbued with dreams of reviving the glory days of the 11th century when Berbers launched Islamist revivalism in the Sahara and marched northward to conquer the North African coast and most of what is now Spain.  The group seeks to cleanse North Africa their colonial master in France and the Americans who have armed their enemies. 

AQIM has staged a series of kidnappings against European employees of multinational corporations that have resulted in some big ransom payoffs, some hostage deaths, and successful prisoner swaps.  The tens of millions resulting from revenue generated by kidnap operations allowed AQIM leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar to buy a .50 caliber anti-aircraft heavy machine guns that gave AQIM the power to defeat the Mali army on the ground and neutralize the Mali air force in the sky.  The ferociousness of the Islamist offensive to overrun Mali, a country the size of France and Spain combined offensive, shocked all its neighbors.  But AQIM’s real goals are not to just conquer Mali; they sought and now have accomplished enticing Africa’s former colonial masters into a protracted war of attrition across the continent.      

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Western Powers  to join the war by sending financial and logistical support to 2000 Mali soldiers; 2300 French troops; and 5700 allied soldiers from Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal.  French Mirage war planes and Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters have been bombing and strafing Mali Islamists for over a week to prevent the last quarter of the country from falling into the hands of the rebels.  The United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Germany, Denmark and Belgium pledged transport aircraft to fly equipment into Mali.

AQIM has abandoned large-scale offensive and are assimilating among the indigenous population to use their superior knowledge of the terrain and guerrilla tactics to inflict casualties on their enemies.  According to Stratfor Reports, the Jihadists:

until now have been able to employ highly mobile formations of roughly company-sized units using trucks with mounted weapons — and also armed with assault rifles, heavy machine guns — and light to medium mortars and rockets. These jihadist formations succeeded against a demoralized and ill-equipped Malian force with negligible air support. The jihadists are fully aware, however, that their formations are highly vulnerable against a French force that can mass enormous firepower, especially when supported by air power.

A military coup in March led by American trained “Captain Sanogo” overthrew Mali President Toure.  The speed of the advances by AQIM backed rebels had demoralized the army and created a humanitarian crisis involving 800,000 refugees.  Sanogo was part of six “training missions,” conducted by U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton from 1989 to 2000.   Over that period, the U.S. invested $1 billion in military training into Mali.

And the 1.5 million member Sharan Tuareg tribe, for centuries survived in the Sahara by controlling trade in ivory, gold, salt and slaves.  They fiercely resisted French colonialism and continue to demand independence.  But as Stefan Simanowitz wrote: 

“A key reason that the governments in Mali and Niger are not keen to give the Tuareg greater autonomy is that the areas that they inhabit are home to vast natural resources… [with] the world’s third largest uranium reserves as well as substantial oil reserves.”

Nuclear power supplies over 75 percent of France’s electricity and allows the country to be the world largest net exporter of electricity, with 3 billion euros in annual revenue.  Most of the uranium to fuel the nuclear reactors comes from Mali, so France has much to lose if AQIM gains power and ejects French interests.  But the military intervention is already being heavily criticized by former French Prime Minister Villepin.  He complains the intervention is “ill thought-out” and “This unanimous enthusiasm for war, the haste with which we are doing it, and the deja-vu of ‘war on terror’ worries me.”

Algeria understands that the Islamist strategy is to bleed and wear down the French and their allies over the long-term in order to reinstate an Islamic Caliphate that lasted for almost 800 years.  France, the United States and Europe will find it much easier to get into a fight with these Salafist Islamic warriors, than ever getting out a winner.

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Reader Comments (12)

The Algerian Civil War started as a war by the incumbent government against Islamist political forces that were set to win a free and fair election. The election was cancelled when the "wrong" side were about to win. There is an important moral truth here. To describe these people as "rebels", as if a military coup that swiftly replaced the incumbent government were some kind of legitimate political entity is misleading. Unpleasant they certainly were, but it would be more accurate to describe them as the political majority. We should now rewrite the first sentence of paragraph 3 above as: "In 2000, Algeria won a brutal decade-long Civil War against the political majority of its citizens who favoured Islamic Government." How about that? The truth for a change. Although it is difficult to know what "Algeria" means in this sentence. The faction supported by Western economic interests?
January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
Roger - you're mistaken about the terrorists in Algeria. In the late 90s, there were daily reports about Algerians (women, children, men, boys, girls, no matter) getting their throats cut in groups of five or six or so. I mean, brutal! And the terrorists were NOT a "political majority" as you claim. It was a horrible chapter in Algeria's history that no one in his right mind wants to relive.
January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
The problem is it is not one group.
-In Algeria probably like in Egypt the majority of the people will support islamist parties. Something the urban and military elites not like, for a mix of reasons. First of all its not to the advantage of their the present power structure (creming off things). As a positive also because it sets the country back and make any investor run for the exit. hardly a way to develop your country.
-Part of these Algerian (as in born in Algeria, several of these groups see themselves not as mainstram Algerians)groups have become violent. But it looks like a relatively small part. This part has however some support from the religious/conservative groups. These have the choice between 2 evils (present corrupt elites and islamists in this case the violent parts), some go left some go right. Often old ties play as well (you support your family or folks from your family's village against the government even if you donot share their views.
Next to that in Algeria there are continuously rumours going around that at least part of the violence/massacres are instigated by the army. At best these are an indication what huge parts think of the credibility of the current rulers at worst they are true.
-These violent groups have support of Al Quaida groups. Which has to be seen more as a franchise/ideology than one centrally directed organisation. There it usually starts. When these AQ groups get more room they become more and more independent.

A lot of people in the West see the West as the good guys. Which is not how the facts on the ground are. Most would love to emigrate to the States on one hand but on the other it is still the history with crusaders (whities are still often called that way), French colonoalism, and American recent interference. One has to keep in mind that the general population in all of these countries are often still illiterate, hardly educated at best and in very nationalistic types of schools (the we are great, biggest country on earth stuff and our heroic struggle for independence and outr president is even a bigger hero than DPRKs Mr Kim). That kind of education more or less needs an enemy (inplicitly or explicitly) that keeps the country from greatness (fill in the names: neighbours, USA, former colonial powers, Israel, Christians etc).
Cities is partly different. Allthough that is a mixed bunch, with original city folks being better educated etc, but most of the people living there are recent influx. Simple peasants that via living in the city have come in contact with the wider world often by staterun biased TV. half the population might live in cities but often more than half the population there is originally from the primitive countryside.

The present Algerian government is simply not popular in really free elections most likely they would be sent home. Of course this will not happen as de facto the army rules the show.
Add a few minorities (deserts are usually populated by those). Which were able to do their own thing before but with modern technology see more and more state interference.
Add poverty. These countries are not properly developed and natural resources proceeds end up mainly with a few.
Makes together an explosive mix.
January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
@Wolf Have you read the book by a Canadian Algerian (I forget the details) who describes the descent into Islamist madness of his main character and the evils of that time? I have an Algerian friend who fled to the EU and UK in that era too. He is still without hope that any good outcome could come from any faction in North Africa or the Middle East. But he does believe that democracy was subverted in Algeria in 1992. He would vote for an Islamic government of some form in a perfect world but he believes that all factions are fundamentally corrupt now. He describes the Salafists as Fascists. I believe that Western power brokering is fundamentally distorting the politics of these countries and has been doing so for a long time now. If a civil war starts, as it did in Algeria in '92, all hell breaks loose. Imagine for a moment what America or Europe would look like under these circumstances. I should have used a stronger word than "unpleasant" to describe the Islamist and State criminals of the Algerian Civil War. But I hold to my central point about democracy in the region. These populations want government that reflects their culture and history. To describe that aspiration as an illegitimate rebellion against proper order and governance and part of some massive plot to take over the world, as Mr. Street does, is ridiculous and reveals a basic denial of democratic values in the American Right in my view. "The (Islamic) people have spoken. The bastards." would be the response of a true democrat. My feelings about Egypt, by the way.
January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
@Rik Your analysis is excellent.
January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
1. What is happening in NA ME is probably a phase these countries have to go through. However we have to keep in mind that this phase might take a few decades if not more. And furthermore how this phase will develop is still pretty unclear.
End of the day no use for short and medium term oriented Western foreign policy.
2. Islamists are overall different shades of fanatics. This is important to know as fanatics usually have as one of the main characteristics that they can create huge problems about issues a normal person would not even know you can look at in different ways. And subsequently these 'discussions' often end in violence.
Next to that there are numerous old conflicts that have never been properly solved.
3. If you look at eg Egypt the Islamists start with the Brotherhood. But also in that organisation there are huge differences. It simply looks like the present leadership had not so much problems with the Mubarak system as well as witht he fact that they were not part of that. Repression and corruptionwise it looks like: 'like has been exchanged for like' (only now with a beard). Next to the fact that even with the best intensions started system end often in corruption and repression (as that is the way things go in those countries and it will take generations before institutions have been created and made properly working which will be mitigate that 'system').
4. Starting with the idea that if an uprising like in say Egypte is started by students that at the end of the road it will end up Westernlike was pure naivity from the West's mostly incompetent leadership.
5. Relations with NA and the ME have simply worsened. The new rulers are less pro Western than the old ones. Population thinks still more or less the same about the West. And the rulers that are not be replaced have started looking for alternatives.
6. And mistakes made in Libya are now repeated in a much worse form in Syria.
7. First of all Syria might be in the Iran camp but at least it was stable. The outcome of this is highly uncertain. It could end up better for the West but could end up much worse as well. Especially if Syria this way is turned into a failed state.
8. Which is a very likley scenario.
Both parties think at the moment especially as religious weirdos are a substantial part of the uprising that they and their families/tribes/cities etc might be wiped from the face of the earth.
It is not only Assad and his cronies. It is a large part of the population that support Assad and are now very very frightened.
On the other side we see the extremists and the local people have simply the idea that if they lose they will be wiped of the face of the earth (as they have seen many times happen before).
Both sides thinking they should not lose means you are in a a big fight.
Providing extremist with weapons like now for the xth time always end up badly.
You only should use them in a large conflict like the cold war or be certain that you can eliminate them after the job is done. This like Libya is not a major conflict and dumping them in a big hole is not a realistic option.
January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
Ultimately the only people who can sort these countries out are The People. When western governments give aid (financial and military) to "stable" governments they give them the means to abuse and terrorize their own people. The aid buys political repression. In Egypt the democratic activists dread the "good intentions" of the IMF. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) plus the IMF becomes the IMBF....Christine Legard in a Niqab. An arms company from my country (UK) sells (via its American subsidiary) teargas and rubber bullets used against liberal (English usage of this word) secular modernist demonstrators. The kind of folk who watch "Friends" on tv. and whose favorite movie is "The Hobbit"
They are not the majority but they are the hope. "Stability" means the bastards have won. Assad is stability. The Saudi Royals are stability. The Ayatollahs are stability. Give me a peaceful mass uprising any day. Nonviolent. No compromise. Destabilize stability. Power always praises stability. Nothing more stable than a corpse or a prison.
January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
It is a complicated situation but it simply looks like THE PEOPLE are not ready to do that. At least in that part of the world. You can see them fighting between themselves often with as much violence as against the former oldskool dictators.
These countries have a long history with a lot of oppression and violence and people with a verty long term memery of that. And with a sense of pride that basically has to be shown by way of violence.
With an uprising all these forces that have been previously oppressed come to the surface. Like in Egypt against the Christians and other minorities (and Egypt is rather homogenous, except for the Christians, compared to the rest).

It is probably a way they will have to go anyway, but imho it likely will be a pretty violent one.
I like a peaceful uprising as much as you do but most or all uprisings will not be peaceful (either the uprising itself or the shorter or longer term aftermath).

I donot have the answers but this will not go smoothly.
January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
Rik: What you say is true, but the only way they are going to learn is by trying. Imperial Power distorts everything. Look at Northern Ireland still, and many parts of Africa, or India Pakistan. Essentially Western economic imperialism has exacerbated the fault lines in these societies by fostering stability imposed by West -Friendly factions. Iran elected a secular democrat in Mosadeq, who was deposed by a tyrant with the help of the Brits and America because he had the temerity to suppose that Iran's oil might belong to the Iranian people. Look at the whirlwind we reaped there. These countries have been pushed towards chaos. There is no reason to suppose that these folk are any more or less inherently crazy than Californians or Poles. Everyone's sh+t smells the same.....to reach for a polite metaphor....
January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
Fully agree that that they have to learn by trying. That was what I meant with a phase they are going to (a necessary next step), earlier on.
However realise that that will not go without bloodshed and tanking the economy. May be not in all countries but as I see it in most of them.
Elites will not give up powers voluntarily. Easy Western interventions (like Tunesia and Egypt) are of the past (every selfrespecting dictator has now had time to work on a plan B (aka other sources for bullets to shoot at protestors). So basically Syria is the new Spring.
Egypt is the new Springeconomy. Nobody with a brain is going to invest there and if you are Mubarak's elite you move all things liquid asap to Dubai, S'Pore etc. (the new Switzerland).

The larger ME must have some serious braindamage. They are right that Mubarak and Co is not likely to work, but so as Iran showed is Muslimbrothers Inc. Plus in the transition itself a lot of extra damage is done.
While at the same time they keep breeding, Egypt a country effectively the size of Holland or Belgium with close to 100 Mn people and counting and an awful lot of sand (with very little under it). They need a sophisticated economy to make the money to pay for food (and other) imports (porn CDs, cars, colorTVs iPads78s that kind of stuff). The more economy and population divide the larger the basics for problems gets. And division looks the by far most likely scenario.

Not agree that the Western interference is the main factor. With Nasser Egypt was independent of the West and that is 50 years ago. Their history is simply a chain of messing thins up and very similar in most other countries in that part of the world. Dictators have been (post colonialism) have been the standard for most of that period in Western oriented, Leaning towards Russia, Communists, independent. There isnot much difference in that. Plus some countries with heavy interference did extremely well (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, HK, S'Pore).
It looks as you said a phase they have to go through.
And basically with a pub-wisdom division. For most people in the pub it was clear that say the larger ME would likley be a disaster (and eg Taiwan not). Like as say with which Euro countries would get into trouble.

Of course the West by basically 'knowing everything better', bears part of the responsibility, but that it reallu made things worse in general I doubt.
January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
Btw love to hear your views on what I will call neo-neo-colonialism.
What I mean after colonialism and neo-colonialism since say 70s we see Western countries (mainly former colonial powers) trying to help the 3rd world. And often make the mess even bigger than it would have been without help.
Imho basically the old fashioned mainly economic stuff did well (say Korea, Taiwan etc) and a lot of the present increase in wealth is probably caused by the US opening up for trade and making industrialisation possible.
However on the making it the next Norway front it looks to be more disaster than success. And they donot learn.
Good intentions and disasterous results.
January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik
Rik and Roger - Great discussion and analysis.

Roger - I totally agree that, as your friend said, "democracy was subverted in Algeria in 1992." Democracy is a concept that frustrates a lot of people in the West as well (the power of money, elites that have near absolute control, central banks that are beyond democratic processes.... the list of common complaints is long) -- but at least, we rarely kill each other over it. It's easy to "subvert" democracy in many countries, and we're seeing it in Africa all the time.
January 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter

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