There was a very interesting recent discussion regarding Northern Africa and the battle against Islamic Terrorists.
Early on in the Global War on Terrorism I was chosen to lead a Multi-national planning effort to develop a long-term campaign against Islamic Terrorism in a Maghreb. Based on assessments it was believed that the greatest threats came in Southern Algeria from the GSPC. The planning team was comprised of military planners from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Turkey. What was evident early on was that United States knowledge of the region was woefully lacking. In particular the French, Spanish, and Italian officers providing great insights into what was really happening in this region.
The first and most important conclusion was like much of the world the national boundaries draw by the West meant little or nothing to the inhabitants of these regions. Second large swaths can and should be considered ungoverned. Ungoverned areas mean just what you would assume it means—an area where the government does not or is unable to exert control. Third the nature the activities in the ungoverned area included criminal activity, tribal and ethnic conflict (particularly the conflict between Arab North African and Black Africans), Islamic terrorism, and anti-governments rebels.
In the conduct of our planning it was quickly apparent that United States intelligence was useless; not because it was accurate rather because the United States placed so many restrictions on sharing of intelligence initially we had to rely purely on “open-source” intelligence. Within a week or so three countries represented on the planning team, Spain, France, and Italy provided releasable intelligence to the planning team. Upon reviewing both the United States and the intelligence provided by Spain, France, and Italy it was evident that the United States was woefully ignorant of what was happening in the Maghreb and in particular the ungoverned spaces.
In recent weeks there has been much comment about Mokhtar Belmokhtar. I have no doubt that he had become the leader of AQ in the Maghreb. This would have just another evolution in his persona. Mokhtar Belmokhtar is nothing more than a thug—a common criminal who worked for the highest bidder. At different times he was involved in providing protection for the GSPC, moving guns and other supplies to them and across traditional trade routes to other rebel and terrorists groups in Africa and the Middle East. I have no idea whether he was a true believer, he may have well have been, but there was no question in anyone mine that the was a capable leader who inspired loyalty.
The end result of the planning effort was a Campaign Plan, which provided a long-term strategy at combating terrorism in the ungoverned spaces. Unfortunately it was never implemented because US interests were diverted to Iraq.
The ungoverned areas of North Africa will remain the wild wild West until such time the governments of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa decide that it is in their national security interest to exercise some degree of authority over these regions. They will never fully exercise authority over these regions because of the tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts. But they can try. Foresman