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USA/Africa: Constructing a Terror Front
Jan 16, 2007 (070116)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Notwithstanding the lack of evidence, Washington saw a Saharan
Front as the linchpin for the militarization of Africa, greater
access to its oil resources (Africa will supply 25% of U.S.
hydrocarbons by 2015), and the sustained involvement of Europe in
America's counterterrorism program." - Jeremy Keenan
With United States military escalation in Somalia making headlines
in the Horn of Africa, it is important to note that the action
there is part of a coordinated strategy rather than an isolated
incident. This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two documents from
2006: (1) an analysis of an earlier less-publicized U.S.
intervention in the Sahel, noting that it was largely built on
fictions and aggravated existing tensions in the region, and (2) .
a State Department report on "U.S. Fighting Terrorism Through
Security Partnerships in Africa."
The Quadrennial Defense Review referred to in the State Department
Report is available at http://www.defenselink.mil/qdr
An earlier AfricaFocus Bulletin on related issues is available at
For an article on the stepped-up U.S. Navy presence in West Africa,
see Sandra Jontz, "Navy's 6th Fleet to increase presence in
Africa," in Stars and Stripes, September 9, 2006. Rear Admiral Phil
Green Jr. told Stars and Stripes (http://www.estripes.com) that the
Navy was now sending small groups of sailors with particular skill
sets to African countries. For example, he said, "a sailor who
speaks Senegalese can be deployed for a few weeks to Senegal
instead of just working in administration at his home base in
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains reports
and commentary on the latest U.S. and Ethiopian intervention in
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
The Collapse of the Second Front
Jeremy Keenan | September 26, 2006
Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary
[FPIF contributor Jeremy Keenan is a teaching fellow in archaeology
and anthropology at Bristol University. He is also a visiting
professor at the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies at Exeter
University where he is director of the Saharan Studies program. His
book Alice of the Sahara: Moving Mirrors and the USA War on Terror
in the Sahara will be published by Pluto Press in 2007.]
It started in 2002 with a few hesitant probes that were low on
intelligence, high on imagination, and short a couple of
helicopters reportedly lost in the desert wastelands of northern
Mali. Then, in 2003, the U.S. launch of a second front in its "war
on terror" moved into top gear. In collaboration with its regional
ally Algeria, the Bush administration identified a banana-shaped
swath of territory across the Sahelian regions of the southern
Sahara that presumably harbored Islamic militants and bin Laden
sympathizers on the run from Afghanistan.
Although the United States had vague suspicions that the Sahel
region of Africa might become a possible terrorist haven following
its dislodgment of the Taliban from Afghanistan, the gear change
was triggered by the hostage-taking of 32 tourists in the Algerian
Sahara. The United States attributed their capture in March 2003 to
Algeria's Islamist "terrorist" organization, the Groupe Salafiste
pour la Pr‚dication et le Combat (GSPC). The presumed mastermind of
the plot was the GSPC's second-in-command, who goes by many
aliases, including El Para after his stint as a parachutist in the
The GSPC held the hostages in two groups approximately 300
kilometers apart in the Algerian Sahara. An Algerian army assault
liberated one of the groups. The captors took the other group to
northern Mali and finally released the hostages following the
alleged ransom payment of five million Euros. The hostage-taking
confirmed U.S. suspicions. Even before the hostages were released,
the Bush administration was branding the Sahara as a terror zone
and El Para as a top al-Qaida operative and "bin Laden's man in the
The U.S. spin on these events was all very dramatic. And it was all
The Pan-Sahel Initiative
In January 2004, following earlier visits from the U.S. Office of
Counterterrorism to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, Bush's
Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI) rolled into action with the arrival of
a U.S. "anti-terror team" in Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital. U.S.
Deputy Undersecretary of State Pamela Bridgewater confirmed that
the team comprised 500 U.S. troops and a deployment of 400 U.S.
Rangers into the Chad-Niger border region the following week. (In
2005, the PSI expanded to include Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco,
Senegal, and Nigeria, and the organization became the Trans-Saharan
By the end of January, Algerian and Malian forces, reportedly with
U.S. support, were said to have driven the GSPC from northern Mali.
Then, in a series of engagements, a combined military operation of
Niger and Algerian forces, supported by U.S. satellite
surveillance, chased El Para's men across the Tamesna, A‹r, and
Tenere regions of Niger into the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. There,
thanks to the support of U.S. aerial reconnaissance, Chadian forces
engaged the GSPC in early March in a battle lasting three days,
reportedly killing 43 GSPC. El Para managed to escape the carnage
but fell into the hands of a Chadian rebel movement. This group
held him hostage until October 2004 when he was returned to
Algeria, allegedly with the help of Libya. In June 2005, an
Algerian court convicted him in absentia of "creating an armed
terrorist group and spreading terror among the population." It
sentenced El Para to life imprisonment.
Within a year, the United States and its allies had transformed the
Sahara-Sahel region into a second front in the global "war on
terror." Prior to the hostage-taking in March 2003, no act of
terror, in the conventional meaning of the term, had occurred in
this vast region. Yet, by the following year, U.S. military
commanders were describing terrorists as "swarming" across the
Sahel and the region as a "Swamp of Terror." The area was, in the
words of European Command's deputy commander General Charles F.
Wald, a "terrorist infestation" that "we need to drain." Stewart M.
Powell, writing in Air Force Magazine, claimed that the Sahara "is
now a magnet for terrorists." Typical of the media hype were
articles in the Village Voice such as "Pursuing Terrorists in the
But the incidents used to justify the launch of this new front in
the "war on terror" were either fiction, in that they simply did
not happen, or fabricated by U.S. and Algerian military
intelligence services. El Para was not "Bin Laden's man in the
Sahara," but an agent of Algeria's counter-terrorist organization,
the Direction des Renseignements et de la Securie‚. Many Algerians
believe him to have been trained as a Green Beret at Fort Bragg in
the 1990s. Almost every Algerian statement issued during the course
of the hostage drama has now been proven to be false. No combined
military force chased El Para and his men across the Sahel. El Para
was not even with his men as they stumbled around the A‹r Mountains
in search of a guide and having themselves photographed by
tourists. As for the much-lauded battle in Chad, there is no
evidence that it happened. Leaders of the Chadian rebel movement
say it never occurred, while nomads, after two years of scratching
around in the area, have still not found a single cartridge case or
other material evidence.
How and why did such a deception take place? The "how" is simple.
First, the Algerian and U.S. military intelligence services
channeled a stream of disinformation to an industry of terrorism
"experts," conservative ideologues, and compliant journalists who
produced a barrage of articles. Second, if a story is to be
fabricated, it helps if the location is far away and remote. The
Sahara is the perfect place: larger than the United States and
effectively closed to public access.
The "why" has much to do with Washington's "banana theory" of
terrorism, so named because of the banana-shaped route Washington
believed the dislodged terrorists from Afghanistan were taking into
Africa and across the Sahelian countries of Chad, Niger, Mali, and
Mauritania to link up with Islamist militants in the Maghreb. Hard
evidence for this theory was lacking. There was little or no
Islamic extremism in the Sahel, no indigenous cases of terrorism,
and no firm evidence that "terrorists" from Afghanistan, Pakistan,
or the Middle East were taking this route.
Washington appears to have based its notion on some unpublished
sources and Algerian press reports on the banditry and smuggling
activities of the outlaw Mokhtar ben Mokhtar. It also misconstrued
the Tablighi Jama`at movement, whose 200 or so members in Mali are
nicknamed "the Pakistanis" because the sect's headquarters are in
Pakistan. Finally, local government agents told U.S. officials what
they wanted to hear.
Notwithstanding the lack of evidence, Washington saw a Saharan
Front as the linchpin for the militarization of Africa, greater
access to its oil resources (Africa will supply 25% of U.S.
hydrocarbons by 2015), and the sustained involvement of Europe in
America's counterterrorism program. More significantly, a Saharan
front reinforced the intelligence cherry-picked by top Pentagon
brass to justify the invasion of Iraq by demonstrating that
al-Qaida's influence had spread to North Africa.
The Algerian Connection
Washington's interest in the Sahel and the flimsiness of its
intelligence were extremely propitious for Algeria's own designs.
As western countries became aware of the Algerian army's role in
its "dirty war" of the 1990s against Islamic extremists, they
became increasingly reluctant to sell it arms for fear of Islamist
reprisals and criticism from human rights groups. As a result,
Algeria's army became progressively under-equipped and increasingly
preoccupied with acquiring modern, high-tech weapon systems,
notably night vision devices, sophisticated radar systems, an
integrated surveillance system, tactical communications equipment,
and certain lethal weapon systems. Whereas the Clinton
administration kept its distance, the Bush administration invited
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as one of its first guests
to Washington. Bouteflika told his American counterpart that
Algeria wanted specific equipment to maintain peace, security, and
September 11 was a golden opportunity for both regimes, especially
Algeria, which sold its "expertise" in counter-terrorism to
Washington on the basis of its long "war" against Islamists through
the 1990s that left 200,000 people dead. This common ground in the
war against terrorism was the basis of a new U.S.-Algerian
relationship. However, by late 2002, Algeria was publicly
admonishing the United States for its tardiness in delivering on
its promises of military equipment. Washington's caution, however,
was justified by the fact that Algeria was on top of its
"terrorist" problem and consequently no longer in need of such
El Para was proof that "terrorism" was far from eradicated in
Algeria and that Islamic militancy now linked the Maghreb and
Sahel. His activities not only eased Washington's political
reticence on military support for Algeria, but also provided the
missing link in its banana theory of terrorism.
Who conned whom is perhaps immaterial, although the U.S. lack of
human intelligence on the ground and its cherry-picking of
unverified intelligence certainly made it unusually receptive to
the wooing of Algeria's military intelligence services. The
situation resembled Ahmed Chalabi's manipulation of U.S.
intelligence agencies in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
However, while Algeria certainly duped U.S. intelligence services,
the overall fabrication of the so-called Second Front involved the
collusion of both parties. U.S. monitoring of the hostage
situation, including the use of AWAC surveillance, speaks to
Washington's willing participation.
The Front Collapses
The Second Front deception has done immense damage to the peoples
and fabric of the Sahara-Sahel region. The launch of a Sahara front
in the "war on terror" has created immense anger, frustration,
rebellion, political instability, and insecurity across the entire
region. The successful Mauritanian coup, the Tuareg revolts in Mali
and Niger, the riots in southern Algeria, and the political crisis
in Chad are direct outcomes of this policy. It has also destroyed
the region's tourism industry and the livelihoods of families
across the entire region, forcing hundreds of young men into the
burgeoning smuggling and trafficking businesses for a living. In
Washington, the same people who failed to find weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq and al-Qaida links to Saddam Hussein are now
busy classifying these innocent victims of U.S. foreign policy as
Fortunately for the people of the region, this Second Front is
collapsing. U.S. regional commanders admitted to a German
journalist this last spring that their EUCOM predecessors had
over-hyped the terrorist situation. In the meantime, U.S.
skullduggery in the region is likely to be exposed further by
President Bouteflika's recent investigation into fraud and
corruption by the Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root Condor
(BRC), set up and registered as an Algerian company by Dick Cheney
The Bush administration fabricated an entire front in the "war on
terror" for its own political purposes. Its obsession with secrecy
is not for reasons of national security but to conceal falsehood.
That is why the Senate Intelligence Committee is stalling its
investigation of Douglas Feith and his role at the Pentagon's
controversial Office of Special Plans. The investigation is likely
to open "an even bigger can of worms," as one former intelligence
officer has warned.
The collapse of the second front is likely to have widespread
implications for America's "war on terror." At a global level, it
will reduce the credibility of the Bush administration still
further, reinforcing the already widespread belief that much of
what it has been saying about terrorism is simply not true. While
of little consequence for those countries with which U.S. relations
are already at an all-time low, the ramifications will be far more
serious for countries such as those in the European Union on whom
America still relies for a modicum of support. Increasing public
skepticism toward the Bush administration's claims about terrorism
and disapproval of the conduct of its "war on terror" has been
forcing the governments of many of these countries to reconsider
the extent and nature of their support for the American enterprise.
This erosion of U.S. credibility in the world will carry over to
subsequent U.S. administrations, even ones that attempt to reform
American foreign policy.
This North African imbroglio also holds serious implications for
America's principal regional allies in the deception. In Algeria,
Mali, Niger, Chad, and pre-coup Mauritania, the launch of the
Saharan front went hand in hand with an increase in repressive
behavior by the security establishments of these countries against
their civilian populations. Not surprisingly, the front's collapse
is now leading to outbreaks of rebellious anger against these
governments and a consequent increase in political instability and
insecurity. In a terrible irony, the attempt to fight terrorists in
a terrorism-free land might ultimately produce the very movements
and activities that the U.S. government claimed it wanted to
expunge in the first place.
U.S. Fighting Terrorism Through Security Partnerships in Africa
United States Department of State (Washington, DC)
April 26, 2006
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Fighting international terrorism "indirectly" through security
partnerships with regional entities is a growing trend for Pentagon
strategists, who see operations like the Combined Joint Task
Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) as the most effective way to employ
U.S. military resources stretched thin by conflicts in Iraq and
That was a major theme of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR),
compiled by the senior military and civilian leadership of the U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) and issued in February.
Basically, it is a guide for "adjusting the U.S. global military
force posture" to respond more flexibly to the post-9/11
environment of global terrorism. The document projects a strategy
for four years into the future, with the next review scheduled to
take place in 2010. (See related article.)
Part of that strategy involves wider use of unconventional troops
called special operations forces as well as joint task forces
combining ground troops with air and naval power, working with
regional forces to counter terrorists in places such as the Sahel
and Horn regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
"Using military power in a low-key way became a hallmark of U.S.
policy toward Africa after terrorists attacks back in August 1998
that destroyed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," said former
Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen, who now runs
a consulting firm, Cohen and Woods International.
"The strategy of working with regional partners in East Africa on
mutual security issues is very important to Africans as well as us
because they also have a lot to lose if al Qaida-type movements
take root. After all more Africans than Americans were killed in
the embassy attacks," the former U.S. ambassador to Senegal added.
In addition, Cohen said "our military and political relations with
allies like Britain and France in Africa have improved and we are
working better on all levels to coordinate military and
peacekeeping operations on the continent as never before."
A good example of the QDR strategy at work in Africa is the
CJTF-HOA, where a combined U.S. force of approximately 1,300
soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen has been stationed at a
former Foreign Legion post in Djibouti, working "to deny safe
havens, external support and material assistance for terrorist
activity," according to the GlobalSecurity.org Web site.
Responsible for the areas of Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea,
Djibouti and Ethiopia, as well as Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula,
the task force command center at Camp Lemonier has also helped
train more than 1,000 members of regional security forces.
In addition, CJTF-HOA has employed civilian contractors, as well as
military personnel, to help clear land mines, to renovate 33
schools, eight clinics and five hospitals and to dig 11 wells.
"Operating across large areas but using only small detachments,
CJTF-HOA is a prime example of distributed operations and economy
of forces," the QDR says. "Military, civilian and allied personnel
work together to provide security training and to perform public
works and medical assistance projects, demonstrating the benefits
of unity of effort."
Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative
Another Defense Department Africa program mentioned in the QDR is
the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, a
multimillion-dollar operation with 10 countries that has had some
success battling terrorists in the Sahel region.
The QDR states, "In Niger, for example, a small team of combat
aviation advisers has helped Niger's Air Force hone its skills to
prevent the underdeveloped eastern part of the country from
becoming a safe haven for transnational terrorists."
The joint task force strategy also was successfully employed in
Liberia in 2003, according to the QDR. To prevent "a full-blown
humanitarian crisis" in the war-torn West African nation that year,
it said, "a U.S. European Command [EUCOM] joint task force
accompanied a force from the Economic Community of West African
States [(ECOWAS] throughout the mission."
In addition, "the U.S. team, working with regional partners,
secured and reopened the country's major seaport to permit the flow
of humanitarian assistance." This U.S. and ECOWAS effort helped
stabilize the country, "permitting a rapid turnover of humanitarian
assistance responsibility to the United Nations in support of the
new interim Liberian government," the review said.
Significantly, the QDR also targeted support for the African Union
as an important part of its defense strategy.
"The Department [DOD] supports the African Union's development of
a humanitarian crisis intervention capability, which is a good
example of an international organization stepping up to the
challenge of regional stabilization," the review concluded.
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