Internet Anthropologist Think Tank: Policing the undergoverned spaces, Sahara and beyond.

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    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Policing the undergoverned spaces, Sahara and beyond.

    Policing the undergoverned spaces

    The Americans are intensifying their hunt for al-Qaeda in the Sahara and beyond

    samedi 16 juin 2007, par temoust

    FAR from the killing fields of Iraq or Afghanistan, Alher Ag Metky, an indigo-robed Tuareg commander in Timbuktu, is meant to be fighting on another front in America's war on terror. His American-trained men set off from the legendary town on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert to patrol hundreds of kilometres of Mali's share of the empty vastness, trying to show that they, and not the terrorists, armed bandits and other assorted ne'er-do-wells control the sands.

    Mr Ag Metky's mission is a tiny part of what the Americans call the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Under this initiative small teams of American special forces train the local soldiers of Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and work with the armies of Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, to control what they call the "undergoverned" spaces of the Sahara : vast swathes of desert where people have been in various states of rebellion for years and which more recently have been visited by radical Islamist clerics and new terrorist groups.

    The Americans particularly fear that if terrorists manage to consolidate bases in the Sahel, the southern fringe of the Sahara desert that extends from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, they may be able to penetrate into the soft underbelly of Europe via Morocco and Algeria. That was the route taken in 2004 by the perpetrators of the train-bombings in Madrid, most of them Moroccan, when nearly 200 people were killed.

    The Horn is getting sharper In east Africa, the United States is already intimately involved in a full-blown offensive against al-Qaeda in Somalia. America helped Ethiopia invade Somalia at the end of last year to topple the terrorists' supposed protectors, the Union of Islamic Courts. The Americans have been battling al-Qaeda in the region ever since it blew up the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing at least 225 people. Now their armed forces are becoming a lot more involved in the rest of Africa. A new American command for Africa, known as AFRICOM, will for the first time co-ordinate all the superpower's various military deployments on the continent under a unified command.

    This, says General William Ward, one of the men in charge of setting up the new command, AFRICOM, is "a recognition of the increasing and growing importance of Africa"—mainly due to terrorists and oil. The aim, he says, is to bring stability to the poor, fragile Muslim countries along the Saharan belt that might otherwise collapse and create havens for terrorists of the sort Afghanistan became under the Taliban.


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