In a previous post on the subject of Libya’s lack of cohesion , I warned that the breakup of Libya would threaten neighboring nations with problems due to the “free radical” nature of the Tuareg problem in those nations. Even though Libya has not broken down along the lines of its three constituent provinces as of yet, the fall of the Gaddafi regime has already led to a predictable destabilization of Mali because of the Tuareg problem, as reported this week by Stratfor .
The problem is a readily understandable one. A “new” group of Mali Tuaregs that had previously formed part of Gaddafi’s loyal Tuareg supporters has formed a group called National Movement For The Liberation of Anzawad (MNLA) and has raised the perennial flag of revolt against the rule of Bamako over the Berber-Tuareg areas of Goa, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The new group, which has picked up the baton of previous rebellions (the last one between 2007 and 2009), includes many people who are veterans of previous tribal conflicts against the Mali government.
Mali’s military has been, so far as can be seen, mostly successful in retaking cities that they have lost to the MNLA, but has not been successful, from what can be gathered, in removing the overall threat. Likewise, the MNLA has weapons now from the Libya conflict but has a logistical need for supply bases and resupply so that it can keep up its hostility when faced against the helicopter attacks of Mali’s military. With Algeria trying to act as an honest broker (as a nation with its own substantial Tuareg-Berber problem in its desert hinterlands), it is unclear what hope diplomacy has at easing the long-term tensions in Mali.
The long-term fault lines are clear. Mali is a state dominated by black Africans but a large part of its sparsely populated territory in the Sahara north is populated by Tuareg tribes that feel (and are) rather oppressed. Some tribes seem particularly inclined to rebel, others less so. A successful Tuareg rebellion would appear to require unity on the part of the rebels, as well as either support from or the removal of hostile townspeople, who have been protesting for Mali’s government to take stronger action against the rebels. The conflict between town and country, or town and desert, appears stronger in Mali than in many parts of the world, or at least more obvious because of the weakness of central government.
Added to these complications is the fact that Mali is seeking support from the United States and its allies by painting the MNLA as allies with the Al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It does appear, given the long-term logistical needs of the MNLA to fund its operations through desert smuggling, and the MNLA attacks at Lere, in an area far from their own bases, that the two groups are allies of convenience, even if they are not entirely aligned in their own principles. Mali is determined to connect the AQIM and MNLA in order to gain support of the West against the rebels (their only real possibility of convincing the West of the worth of supporting their military), while MNLA, for understandable reasons, is determined to deny whatever connection may exist between the two organizations, regardless of the truth of the matter for either side.
Actions have consequences. Our hostility against the Gaddafi regime has turned fierce Tuareg warriors who were content to fight as loyal mercenaries in Gaddafi’s army, where they could find advancement and respect, into free radicals intent on bringing down the tyrannical regime in their own homeland. By breaking Gaddafi’s army we have allowed some 2,000 to 4,000 fierce and battle-hardened warriors to destabilize a neighboring nation because they lost a comfortable base of operations and gainful employment in serving a wacky dictator. Now we face the choice of choosing to fight them on another front, or in letting the free radicals cause such damage as they can in a longstanding and seemingly intractable conflict. Nice work all the way around.