The full extent of the damage caused by the Libyan afterparty is slowly becoming clear, as bad news from Mali continues to trickle in. Flooded with weapons and veterans from Libya, the northern half of Mali has become a Texas-sized Saharan safe haven for al-Qaeda and affiliates. Newly galvanized young men from across the region are drawn to the fighting, which threatens to destabilize much of West Africa. The U.S. commander of AFRICOM has noticed, reports the New York Times:
As each day goes by, Al Qaeda and other organizations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali,” General Ham said in remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that.”
The Qaeda North Africa affiliate is now considered one of the best armed and wealthiest of the Qaeda franchises across the world, largely because of millions of dollars gained in kidnapping ransoms, drug proceeds and illicit trafficking in fuel and tobacco, General Ham said.
Even the United Nations is on board with this assessment. Plans to deploy a 3,300 strong African international force, which would be supported by the West, are slowly moving forward. A military intervention would be a large operation in a huge area with difficult terrain that would likely involve ground combat against thousands of dedicated guerrilla fighters.
Meanwhile, as time goes by and the jihadist groups stall for talks, they continue to gain against the secular Tuareg liberation movement MNLA. A senior French official earlier this year said the fighting could turn into a “Stalingrad of the desert.” Hundreds of thousands of mostly black refugees from northern cities have fled to the south. Fed up with waiting for intervention, they may at some point take matters into their own hands, organizing militias.
The law of unintended consequences is clearly at work in West Africa, which has turned into a prime theater in the war on terror.