Libya, Mali, and the Reality of Unintended Consequences

Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan, and Frederick Buttaccio
were the three Americans murdered in Algeria last week; three of at
least 39 foreign hostages killed by Islamic militants who captured
a gas field near the Algeria-Libya border before being flushed out
by an Algerian military assault. The rest of those killed were
workers from the U.K., France, Japan, Norway, the Philippines,
France, Colombia, Malaysia and Romania, as well as terrorists from
Egypt, Mauritania, Nigeria, Tunisia, Mali, Algeria, France, and
Canada. The attack was in response to the
French-led intervention in Mali.That there would be reprisals for the intervention in Mali
should not come as a surprise. One of France’s chief
counterterrorism judges said recently that France is now the number
one target of jihadists in North Africa. France has tightened
security since the intervention began, and the Danish
foreign minister accepted that assisting the French-led
intervention could increase the chance of an attack in Denmark.While the European governments prepare for responses to the
intervention in Mali, it’s worth revisiting how we got here. The
NATO intervention in Libya helped contribute to the conditions in
Mali that led to a French-led intervention. After Muammar Gaddafi
was overthrown, weapons came into Mali from Libya thanks to Tuareg
fighters who had been fighting for the Libyan dictator. These
Tuareg fighters began fighting for the independence of northern
Mali, known as Azawad, and allied themselves with Islamist groups
in the process. Although the Tuareg group, called the National Movement for the
Liberation of Azawad, initially sided with Islamic groups like Al
Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine, they eventually came into conflict with
one another and the Islamist factions gained dominance in the
region. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad is now
with the French in their attempts to defeat the Islamists.The situation in Mali became of increasing concern to the
international community, especially after the Islamic militants
began moving south. Although the U.N. Security Council had
authorized an African-led mission to secure Mali it was unlikely
that the force would be ready to deploy before September. In light
of the Islamic militants advancing south, France intervened, a move
that was later unanimously
supported by the U.N. Security Council.While it looks like the French and Malian forces are succeeding
in pushing the Islamist fighters out of the territory they have
captured, it is not at all clear that the intervention will have a
net benefit for the stability and security of North Africa. The
French-led mission is operating under a completely different
understanding of geography, which is an advantage to the Islamist
militants. French and Malian forces cannot enter other countries.
However, Islamists fighters have no such problems entering Algeria,
Niger, and Mauritania.That the intervention in Libya caused a situation in Mali that
has in turn led to a terrorist attack in Algeria does not exculpate
the perpetrators of the attack on the Algerian gas field nor does
it excuse the actions of Islamic extremists in Mali. Nor should the
geopolitical impact of the overthrow of Gaddafi lead to any doubt
of the good intentions of NATO officials.However, what last week’s attack in Algeria shows is that the
consequences of international interventions are impossible to
wholly and accurately predict. If Western governments wish to
execute interventions that depose foreign leaders who, despite
their cruelty and evil, play a significant regional role, then
Western governments should be prepared for the unintended negative
consequences. It appears that the French have prepared for possible
reprisals, having increased security in many areas. Yet the
international diversity of the intervention in Mali means that
France is not the only country with an increased risk of terrorism
thanks to the intervention. The 2004 bombings in Madrid and the
2005 bombings in London are reminders that oftentimes it is not the
strongest partner in a coalition that faces bloody reprisals.French officials originally said that the French operation in
Mali would last only weeks, however
President Hollande recently said that France would be committed
to the region until the Islamists are defeated and a legitimate
government is ready to take over in Mali. Our intervention in
Afghanistan provides a painful lesson that while modern militaries
are good at killing their enemies, they do not necessarily provide
what is necessary for legitimate and stable governments.The situation in Mali also provides timely lessons about the
unfolding situation in Syria, which is in many ways more
potentially explosive than the situation in Mali given its
proximity to Israel and also the fact that the conflict includes Al
Qaeda-linked groups, Hezbollah, and Iran.After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Western governments
need to strongly reconsider their methods of fighting terrorism and
addressing regional instability. Foreign occupation is a costly and
deadly strategy, and it is far from obvious that it ensures or
increases the safety of those living in the countries whose
governments carry out invasions and occupations.

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Libya, Mali, and the Reality of Unintended Consequences

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