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Insurgency in Northern Mali Diplomacy or Counterinsurgency

Insurgency in Northern Mali Diplomacy or Counterinsurgency

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Published by Lord Adusei

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Published by: Lord Adusei on Dec 14, 2012
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Insurgency in Northern Mali: Diplomacy or Counterinsurgency?
 By Lord Aikins Adusei
Heavily armed Tuareg rebels control key northern cities of Gao, and TimbuktuThe recent take over of Northern Mali by National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad(MNLA) and Al Qaeda franchise groups such Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the IslamicMaghreb (AQIM) present difficult challenge to the civilian and military leadership in WestAfrica. There is no question that AQIM working closely with Ansar Dine would use their newtrophy i.e. northern Mali not only as a supermarket and free zone area for terrorism but also tofuel kidnapping, drug trafficking and other contraband activities in the Sahel region and beyond. Therefore allowing them to use the region as a safe haven for terrorism and their criminal enterprise could worsen Mali’s security problems and threaten the already shakystability in neighbouring countries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mauritania,and Niger. At the same time a counterinsurgency offensive on the part of ECOWAS todislodge the MNLA rebels and Ansar Dine could trigger multiplier effects that ECOWASmight not be ready for. It is a serious dilemma that needs to be approached with extremecaution.In formulating a proper response to the Malian problem, the leadership in West Africa should be guided by lessons in Somalia where efforts to root out Al Shabaab have remained not onlyelusive but to a larger extent have been counterproductive: spreading terrorism to Uganda andKenya. More lessons could be drawn from the U.S. experience in fighting the Taliban and AlQaeda in Afghanistan. Paul Scharre, former officer of the U.S. 75th Ranger Regiment and theauthor of “A More Agile Pentagon” observes that the Afghan war was initially conductedwith a “shock and awe” strategy using light and fast vehicles but that soon changed to the useof heavily armoured vehicles as Taliban and Al Qaeda began using improvised explosivedevices (IEDs) and roadside bombs to destroy convoys, road clearance vehicles and even themost potent of the coalition armoured vehicles with impressive results and with strategicconsequences for the U.S. led coalition. NATO, with its well trained 150,000 strong fighters and overwhelmingly superior capabilities, in addition to 305,000 Afghan Police and Armed Forces could not easily win thewar against the battle-hardened, religiously and ideologically entrenched Al Qaeda andTaliban fighters. A change in both strategy and leadership on the part of U.S.-- including a
30,000 troop surge in 2009-2010-- did not overwhelmingly alter the battle environment infavour of the coalition forces. In the end U.S. began to engage the Taliban in dialogue for anegotiated political settlement. In June 2011, after ten years in Afghanistan and hundreds of  billions of dollars spent in the war effort, President Barack Obama announced that he was bringing the U.S. troops home telling Americans “it is time to focus on nation building here athome”.President Obama's announcement was made in spite of the obvious fact that Afghanistan isstill unstable. While writing this piece report came in that the Taliban on Monday September 20, 2012 shot and damaged the parked plane of General Martin Dempsey, the top-most officer in the U.S. military. The attack came months after U.S. Defence Secretary Leone Panetta wasmade a target of a suicide attack in mid-March 2012 while on a visit to Camp Bastion inAfghanistan. It is highly uncertain what will happen in Afghanistan when the troops leave,however the U.S. willingness to engage the Taliban in dialogue for a political settlement is amajor lesson that ECOWAS’ political and military leaders could learn from. In other wordsECOWAS’ leaders should hesitate in launching counter offensive against the insurgents andgive diplomacy a chance while keeping the military option on the table.There are several reasons why ECOWAS must give diplomacy a chance. First AQIM, Ansar Dine and the MNLA rebels are not only unconventional fighting force that respect no rules of engagement but are also heavily armed and could put up stiff resistance to ECOWAS'counterinsurgency efforts. This means that combined with the difficult and hostile Saharaenvironment, it will be difficult to completely defeat them. The war could in fact drag on for years if not decades as pointed out by James Thomas Snyder author of “CounterinsurgencyVocabulary and Strategic Success” who notes that modern counterinsurgency warfare usuallylast between 12 and 15 years. Going by this it implies that ECOWAS will find it difficult toconduct and sustain a war that will last for 12 or 15 years especially given other seriousthreats in the sub region such as maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, terrorism in Nigeria,fragile stability in Ivory Coast and narcotics trafficking that equally need human, financialand material resources to confront them.Besides, counterinsurgency like any other war could be humanly costly. AQIM, Ansar Dineand MNLA may use guerrilla tactics; hide inside the populations living in the Gao andTimbuktu thereby making it harder for ECOWAS’ Forces to root them out. Attempt to attack the insurgents in the towns could lead to high civilian casualties which could be exploited bythe insurgents to make the counterinsurgency unpopular among the population.Additionally, a counterinsurgency could also worsen the already bad humanitarian situation inthe north of the country. So far about 500,000 people are known to have fled their homes,additional 250,000 are internally displaced while a quarter of a million more live in refugeecamps. More people could be forced to flee and the complicated food, water and healthsecurity situation could get worse.Moreover, as it is common with many wars, the counterinsurgency environment can changevery quickly with unpredictable outcomes. The insurgents could adapt to counterinsurgencyoffensive and even change the environment in their favour. They may decide to extend their activities to relatively stable areas in Mali and even to neighbouring countries. This is exactlywhat Al Shabaab did in Uganda on 11 July 2010 when they killed more than 85 people whohad gathered to watch the FIFA World Cup that was underway in South Africa. Kenya hascome under similar attacks from Al Shabaab and Boko Haram recently extended its activities
to states in the middle belt of Nigeria.More problematic is the financial situation in the ECOWAS region. ECOWAS countries, likethe rest of the countries worldwide, are cash trapped due to the global financial and economicdownturn. Governments in West Africa, United States and Europe are implementing austerity budget and struggling to stay afloat. Launching a war against the insurgents will not onlyrequire men but also money and military capabilities. Sending poorly equipped 3,500 fightingforce to a region as big as France or U.S. state of Texas will be similar to repeating what theMalian government did when it sent soldiers with poor morale, leadership shortcomings andlimited capabilities to confront the heavily armed insurgents, resulting in the lighteningvictory for the insurgents.In other words undertaking a counterinsurgency that could be lengthy and costly, in afinancially weak-region, and in a global economy that is still struggling to recover definitelyneeds deep thinking and a deeper reflection. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of U.S. JointChiefs of Staff recently cautioned that the complexities of modern warfare particularlycounterinsurgency require “leaders who do not think linearly, but who instead seek tounderstand the complexity of problems before seeking to solve them”. This means that politicians and military leaders in ECOWAS seeking solution for Mali should understand thesituation before prescribing any solution.Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV, commanding general of the NATO TrainingMission in Afghanistan and Captain Nathan K. Finney in an article titled “Security, Capacityand Literacy” published in the journal ‘Military Review’ in 2011 opined that “conventionalmilitary weapons alone will not win” the war against AQIM, Ansar Dine and the Tuaregrebels. Similarly Tony Blair in a speech on January 12, 2007 observed that “Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone”.This suggests that there are other weapons that in addition to dialogue could be used to defeatthe insurgents. One such weapon is the use of intelligence. Intelligence could be beefed up inthe region controlled by the insurgents. This could help ECOWAS to know the mind of theinsurgents, their strategy, tactics, their movements, weapons and their operational capabilities.Intelligence could also help to identify the leadership of the insurgent for special attention andto counter their propaganda.In his book “The War within”, Bob Woodward observed that the strategy of using accurateintelligence to conduct precision raids, targeting insurgent leaders helped to turn the tide inIraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the threats he and other Al Qaeda leaders posed in Iraq wereremoved with the help of intelligence. Thus intelligence fusion and precision raiding focusingstrongly on the leadership of insurgent could weaken the terror group’s ability to mounteffective response. Intelligence could also limit damage and bloodshed and unnecessarycivilian casualties. Although Ansar Dine may quickly replace their captured or killed leaders,the new leaders may lack experience and skill which will affect their decision making andability to wage a sustained war. Intelligence could also help to dismantle the drug trafficking,kidnapping and other criminal activities that serve as a key source of funding for theinsurgents.Also a strategy could be adopted to divide the front of the insurgents. There are two broadgroups involved in the insurgency in northern Mali: Tuareg rebels and Ansar Dine. TheTuareg rebels are fighting for a homeland while the Ansar Dine is religiously fanatical

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