The Mali War was blowback from the Libya War; now we have blowback from the Mali War… in Libya. The Guardian has details on increasing violence against Western targets in Tripoli, including an attack on the French embassy last week, likely in retaliation for France’s decision to extend its mission against the Tuareg nationalists and the jihadists in northern Mali:
Jihadist groups ejected from their Timbuktu stronghold have moved north, crossing the Sahara through Algeria and Niger to Libya, fuelling a growing Islamist insurgency.
“There are established links between groups in both Mali and Libya—we know there are established routes,” said a western diplomat in Tripoli. “There is an anxiety among the political class here that Mali is blowing back on them.” […]
The fear across the Maghreb is that the French operation that has pushed them out of the northern cities has inadvertently compounded problems elsewhere in north Africa as jihadist units disperse.
“If you squeeze a balloon in one part, it bulges out in another,” said Bill Lawrence, of International Crisis Group, a political consultancy. “There’s no question that the French actions in Mali had the effect of squeezing that balloon towards Algeria and Libya.”
Meanwhile in northern Mali, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists are no longer shooting dogs, banning alcohol or openly carrying arms in city streets. But citizens are still fearful, and the UN-backed African military force in the region is having a hard time keeping the peace:
“It is difficult to know who is a jihadist, who is the MNLA [the Tuareg Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad], and who is a bandit. All these bandits have taken advantage of the security situation. The jihadists are getting supplies from people by attacking them on the road.”
The security problems in northern Mali, where militants have lost their grip on towns but large weapons caches are believed to be hidden in the desert, have dampened the jubilant spirit that arose when French forces swept into the region in January. In addition to regular incidents outside Timbuktu, it and other towns in the north have been rocked by a spate of suicide bombings, previously unheard of in the country. Army officials and residents alike say it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of further similar attacks.
In other words, the current state of affairs is lining up more or less exactly as our colleague Adam Garfinkle has been predicting it would for a while now.
This leaves us wondering exactly how all those clever humanitarians in the White House run the numbers these days. Do they calculate that our Libyan excursion saved more lives than have been lost in the subsequent chaos in not one but now several northern African countries? We certainly hope that whatever accounting they use is very clever, because from our back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, there has been zero benefit to the national interest from this poorly judged, poorly prepared, poorly handled war.
[Rebel fighters from Eastern Libya in 2011. Courtesy Getty Images]