Austin Bay
As you read about the French military intervention in Mali, undertaken to defeat an offensive by al-Qaida's North African affiliate and loosely allied tribal rebels, remember two points.

One: Mali is an accidental battlefield, the offspring of a militant Islamist defeat in Algeria.

Two: In Mali, al-Qaida is repeating an operational scheme it has employed in its Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen campaigns, with little success despite great bloodshed and suffering. The scheme has three components: rough terrain, tough Muslim tribes and tribal grievances that al-Qaida can exploit. The tough Muslim tribes who have cooperated with al-Qaida have inevitably suffered immensely, at the hands of al-Qaida, as well as al-Qaida's opponents.

Northern Mali, a chunk of the Sahara Desert roughly the size of Texas, is isolated and rugged. The area is the home turf of several Tuareg clans. The Tuareg are a nomadic (or semi-nomadic) Berber tribe who live in several West African nations.

Tuaregs are tough by any standard. They have avoided domination and assimilation by Romans, Arabs (from several sources), Turks, Spaniards and Frenchmen.

Mali's Tuareg have also largely avoided domination by the largely Black African-controlled post-colonial government in Mali's capital, Bamako -- at least until the waning years of the 20th century.

As the Tuareg see it, Mali's current government is endemically corrupt. Indeed it is. That's a legitimate grievance. However, ugly ethnic resentments compound that grievance. At one time, Tuareg warriors traded Black African slaves. Now, the southern government calls the shots.

So all three conditions for an al-Qaida insurgency exist in Mali, or through an al-Qaida usurped insurgency is a better way to describe it. reported on April 6, 2006, (seven years ago) on the Tuareg's separatist rebellion. "The Tuareg tribes are again in rebellion against the Mali government. ... Although most of the people are Muslims, religious radicalism does not seem to have put down any roots. ... (However) ... the region seems to have attracted Islamist fundamentalists fleeing defeat in Algeria, who have reportedly set up base camps in order to regroup."

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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