« Kerry in Iraq to Press on Iran Flights to Syria - ABC News | Main | Cyprus - Where is YOUR money today? »

24 March 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

William R. Cumming

I have often wondered if one of the reasons US doesn't share intelligence is because it is largely worthless given the lack of knowledge of cultures and languages in much of the world.

I also long ago concluded that so-called nation states that have large ungoverned areas so have those areas delineated by multilateral organizations and denied recognition over those areas.

Inside the Washington Beltway might be a first choice for that designation.


Complicating matters are rivalries between nations. Algeria has for years militarily supported fighters trying to liberate the former Spanish Sahara from Morocco. Its population is probably less than 100,000.

Foresman notes that, "What was evident early on was that United States knowledge of the region was woefully lacking." And exactly why does the West need to know what is going on? It's not like you can develop and test nuclear weapons in the middle of the Sahara.

My guess is that, like most people labeled as terrorists, the people of the Sahara would just as soon live their lives and leave other people alone, as long as outsiders didn't see the need to meddle in their lives.

Unfortunately, needless meddling is what the United States seems to do best, even if it is by and large ineffective and counterproductive.


I'm not sure that there is much reason to be disturbed by lack of expertise on the Sahara region 10 or 12 years ago. As JohnH points out, we have little national interest there. Other features of the situation strike me as more disturbing. One, the presumption that we actually did know a great deal. Two, the unwillingness to recognize the allies' superior competence. Three, we are still lagging. The point of setting up an Africa Command, with 1,700 staff, of our mission in Mali (and other places), etc was to keep us on top of things. The Mali affair exposed the failure of that effort. The French clearly have a far better understanding of what's going on and how to do things there than we do.

By the way, the confirmation of the death of Zeid is a feather in their cap and a tribute to their skill at working in that setting. By contrast, we took 10 years to track down OBL (with critical Pakistani help). Of course, there is not an exact equivalence - and I do not wish to denigrate the dedication of our people. It does, though, usefully puncture the inflated conceit that has become such a liability to American policy-making and operations.

Babak Makkinejad


Let me get this straight:

there was a team consisting of military planners from 7 Faranji states and Turkey trying to steer the destiny of a region thousands of kilometers from their capitals - populated by alien people with whom they have neither empathy nor understanding.

Was this an exercise in futility or in hubris?

Babak Makkinejad

The French cannot stay in Mail; there is no longevity to their presence,

And now, they are broke.

Hank Foresman


Nasreddin Hodja

No use to try - meddling causes only trouble. The best policy is to leave them alone, with the understanding that they leave alone the territories controlled by the state.

By the way traditional, quasi extraterritorial entities can pretty well govern themselves. An example is the five fortified medieval villages in the M'Zab valley. Not too long time ago you had to deposit your passport at the Algerian gendarmery at the village gate if you intended to spend a few days at a friend's house within the walls. Talking about time travel, inside the village, you felt you were in the 11th century.. and people seemed quite happy with that.

(PL: sorry for eventual multiple posting)

Clifford Kiracofe

Morocco was the first state to recognize the US flag back in 1777 and the first country with which we negotiated a treaty of friendship later. Our relations with Tunisia date to the 1780s. We have had a naval presence in the region since the formation of our Med Squadron in 1801. An American diplomat compiled the first dictionary of the Berber language in the 1830s I think it was.

Thus we have been out that way for a couple of centuries.

Looking at WWII history we might consider TORCH.

There may well be a number of qualified scholars on North Africa in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

IMO there are few excuses for the USG to be uninformed.

The Twisted Genius

Hank Foresman,

I can vouch for a lack of intel on the region. In the late 90s, Libya was part of my portfolio as a desk officer in DHS (Defense HUMINT Service). We had a couple of decent collection operations, but nothing earth shattering. My counterpart at CIA freely admitted that they had far less going on in Libya at the time. Libya was a priority country at the time. Our coverage across the rest of North Africa and the Maghreb was far more sparse to nonexistent. For some reason CIA pulled a lot of their resources out of Africa at that time. Our DAOs were also stretched pretty thin, and they seemed to be involved in a NEO every other month.

When the Malian DGSE came to us for intel assistance, there was no CIA station in Bamako. Our DAO was accredited to Bamako, but stationed elsewhere. Our knowledge of possible terrorist threats in the Sahel and Maghreb was nebulous, but we pushed to establish a bilateral collection effort in Bamako. All this was before 9/11 and GWOT. An awful lot has happened since then.


To be informed the powers that be need to listen to the qualified scholars. Kool Aid revisited?


American academic coverage of North Africa is uneven. Compared to the Levant, Turkey, or Iran, it attracts far fewer graduate students. While there's no shortage of folks working on Egypt, there are far fewer with an interest in Morocco, and still fewer, in Tunisia. Algeria and Libya are poorly covered — neither has been an easy place to undertake research, for a long time now. The eastern Sahel has suffered the same fate, largely. The western Sahel has fared better, but has been the preserve of Africanists, and they enjoy a small institutional base in American universities.

There are also cultural barriers that would have to be overcome. Some academics would be loath to work with the military or intel community ... as a matter of principle. But even when that's not the case, military experience is non-existent. Also, security clearance of any sort would likely be a significant problem for many.

I doubt there's actually much help to be found in the universities. Frankly, unless someone needs to send an army to Sicily, I'd subcontract it to the French and Moroccans.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

October 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Blog powered by Typepad