The recent attack on the French uranium mine and military base in northern Niger and the attack on the French embassy in Libya last month are examples of the spread of the militant Islamist threat in the Sahara. The regional tension and lack of inter-state cooperation has proliferated the threats and allowed the militants to move easily within the desert. In the past the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb relied mostly on Algerians but militants from across the region have begun to join.

 

The recent attack on the French uranium mine and military base in northern Niger and the attack on the French embassy in Libya last month are examples of the spread of the militant Islamist threat in the Sahara. The regional tension and lack of inter-state cooperation has proliferated the threats and allowed the militants to move easily within the desert. In the past the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb relied mostly on Algerians but militants from across the region have begun to join.

 

 

The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 flooded the region with weapons and many of the militants who participated in the revolution have refused to lay down their arms. The weapons spread across the region have found their way into the hands of Islamic extremist groups, which have imposed sharia law in vast regions of southern Libya. With no effective national army Libya has relied on local militias to police these regions but the groups have been unsuccessful. The French invasion of northern Mali is partially responsible for the increase in extremists and al Qaeda linked militants in southern Libya.

 

The French military forces drove the Islamic extremists out of northern Mali and they have reorganized in southern Libya, an area with little interference or influence from Libyan officials and the area has been continually used as a route for drug and weapons trafficking. France has played a fundamental role in this region since its intervention.

 

On May 31st, French President François Hollande told French media outlets FRANCE 24, RFI, and TV5 Monde that the country will only intervene against the militant groups in Southern Libya with the backing of the United Nations. In the interview President Hollande said, “There are rules for any French intervention. We intervene when we have legitimacy from UN resolutions and in no other cases.” Hollande continued adding, “We have not been called on by Libyan authorities.” Hollande did say France would, “support all efforts by the Libyan authorities to fight against terrorism.”

 

In February of this year, France held delegations that included the United States, Britain, the EU, and UN to develop a strategy to aid in the stabilization of Libya but very little progress has been made. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot stated, “the only request we have had from Libyans for help is to provide training and advice, as well as equipment to secure the borders.”

 

The interview comes after last month’s attack on the French embassy in Tripoli. The embassy was targeted by a car bomb on April 23 that wounded two French guards. The attackers have not been identified but, in the interview, President Hollande believed the militants originated form Southern Libya stating, “We think this is the most likely scenario. We must see how we can cooperate with Libyan authorities to nullify these terrorists.”

 

Cooperation between the North African states is key in combating the militants in southern Libya. Algeria is the regions main military power but has been reluctant to participate in a foreign intervention. The lack of communication between the North Africa states is slowing the fight against extremism in the region. The lack of cooperation between the states will inevitably deepen France role within the region. Ismael Diallo, U.N. conflict expert, commented on France position saying, “France has no choice. Regional cooperation will not improve soon enough and to a credible level to deter the armed groups.”

 

Despite the lack of cooperation and communication some progress has been made in the region. According to French officials, approximately 600 Islamists have been killed, 200 tons of ammunition seized, and dozens of desert bases have been destroyed. The military superiority of France, with the support of the United States and the United Kingdom, has made the fight easier but the region is still largely under extremist influence.

 JOSE GONZALEZ

07/07/2013