Mission Accomplished, Part Deux?

3 02 2013

mission-accomplishedYes We Can?

The French rightly pride themselves on having inspired American remakes like “the Dinner for Schmucks” and “True Lies.” They also rightfully complain that Americans always spoiled the artistic touch in the original movies. For once the roles are reversed in real life and not on cinema reels. The French remake being shot now in Mali of the 2003 ‘Mission Accomplished” flick starring George W. Bush does not, thus far, show any promise of improving on the American original action drama.

Credit should be given when due, Mr Hollande’s decision to put boots on the ground is a responsible choice– better late than never. However, the real question today is: does France have a credible exit strategy that does not result in another botched war in Northern MaliPresident Hollande’s PR-minded visit to Mali’s liberated north along with the nation’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré felt like a an eery replay of George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” moment aboard a US aircraft carrier. While Mr Hollande and his host were prudent not to declare the fight against Jihadis over, they had more rhetoric than concretes to offer as an assessment of the current situation. Most media stories reported the event without really questioning the next phases in the conflict.

Just as in 2003, Hollande echoed Bush’s pledges of grandiose plans for rebuilding Iraq. Like the images of Iraqis tearing down Saddam’s statue in 2003, footage of effusive and jubilant locals praising Mr Hollande and their liberators has been rolling on cable news channels around globe. A weak and temporary fill-in until Mali resumes its democratic regime interrupted by military coups, Mr Taroré did not have much to say about reconciliation with the North other than a vague willingness to negotiate with the MNLA. Behind the smiles, and the photos ops, no concrete plan seems to exist to fix Mali’s multidimensional failures.

On the security front, the draw down of France’s 3000 troops has already been decided. the official line is that ECOWAS troops will support Malian troops hereon forward. The United States has pledged $10 Million Dollars to help train Mali’s army. this being the same army that melted in battle last winter when Jihadis took it head on, one cannot help but wonder whether this check is a buy-out option from a hopeless task? Whatever the answer is, it is imperative that the Malian army be continuously supervised lest its undisciplined troops engage in yet another round of vigilante retribution against civilians they deem to be in cahoots with the enemy.

As of January 20, only 450 out of the 4500 ECOWAS troops pledged were already on Malian soil. Almost half are from Chad, the rest are spread between Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Of course, the devil is in the details; Benin sent policemen, and Ghana sent combat engineers — neither are exactly frontline combat troops. Of course, these numbers increased in the last 10 days but the questions remain valid: other than Nigeria’s and Chad’s troops, how soon can we expect that this mishmash can be forged into a credible fighting force?

Speaking of mishmash and cultural references, experience in Iraq and Afghanistan show that any foreign troops have a very short time window to adapt to local cultures and traditions. Sub-saharan troops are not an exception to this rule. Just as their Western counterparts in the past decade, they are entering into an alien culture whose intricacies and codes they must quickly grasp or risk being seen by locals as a serious nuisance in their lives. After all, who could forget how quickly Iraqis’ shouts of “Thank you America” turned into “down down America”?

Conspicuously absent when the going got rough, Europe’s leaders seem all too content to have dodged another war they could avoid. Of course, they pledged 50 Million Euros to fund the African contingent being deployed in Mali and to send trainers. Decidedly, the European Union is a coalition of the amnesiacs. over a decade, Western European nations diligently filled terrorist coffers with ransom money to free EU hostages. Way above the $100 Million mark, that money went a long way in helping Jihadis buy arms and train future terrorists. Consequently, the onus of showing responsible leadership remains on EU member countries. They should, at least, triple their financial and military assistance to France. if not for their own security, it is a step on the way to repair the damage their policies caused to Mali and the region’s security. Their credibility and commitment to combat international terrorism depends on it.

With Jihadis melting in nature, and quickly disappearing in the depth of the Sahara, France, African nations, and the world at large are better served by some candor: there are not enough troops on the ground. Mr Hollande does not yet have an exit strategy, Mali’s military and governance require years to rebuild. After the joy recedes, the people freshly liberated in northern Mali will be expecting all the rosy promises made to them to be fulfilled. For that to happen, the international community should follow France’s lead and shoulder its part of the responsibility. Anything short of a full Bosnia-style UN mission in northern Mali can not be a serious response to a an equally serious problem. For the sake of peace, we can only hope that today l’impossible n’est pas Français!





Mauritania’s Society on the Mali War: Niet!!

17 01 2013
Le radeau de la meduse

Le Radeau de la Méduse – Théodore Géricault

“Fortune, which has a great deal of power in other matters but especially in war, can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces.”

Julius Caesar 

Mauritanian public opinion remains dead set against their country’s involvement in Mali. Across the political and social spectrum, not a single meaningful voice called for Mauritania to intervene militarily. Worse, Mauritanian Salafis implicitly endorsed the Jihadis in Mali with an incendiary fatwa. Thus, it is no longer possible to present the Malian war as a foreign matter, it has become an internal political battle. Despite all of this, The “president” General Aziz unilaterally put the country on the path to war.

In the best tradition of a tribal chief, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz made a potentially fateful decision in a meeting with his French counterpart.  He told the Gauls’ chief François Hollande, that should the chief of the Malians ask for his help, he shall oblige. So is the mindset governing the country’s destiny. This should be a cause for serious concern for anyone contemplating a Mauritanian entry in the conflict.

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz’s meeting on Tuesday with François Hollande in Abu Dhabi shook the country’s political class out of its wait-and-see posture. Till that point, only the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood had declared -unsurprisingly- its vehement opposition to what it calls “the French invasion” of Mali.

As customary with General Aziz, he did not bother issuing any communiqués about the substance of his meeting with the French president. He even excluded his press adviser from the meeting altogether. Mauritanian state media reported the meeting as a routine discussion.  It was rather François Hollande who dropped the bombshell during this own press conference: “Mauritania is ready to take its responsibilities vis-à-vis the terrorist threat should the Malian state issue such a request.”

This 180-degree turn of positioning is symptomatic of the man’s style. After multiple public reassurances that he will not enter a war in Mali, he still went ahead and committed to enter the war once it broke out in spite of his own public opinion’s vehement objections to the move. What is his plan to deal with any fallout from his decision? That too will be improvised.

As predicted, the domestic response was swift:  all relevant opposition parties in Mauritania rejected wholesale the ongoing war in Mali. Not all of these were knee-jerk. The main opposition party, the RFD sought active measures from all political players to prevent the involvement of the army in the war. The second most important opposition, the UFP, took a softer line by supporting efforts to preserve Mali’s unity while rejecting Mauritania’s entry into the war.

More interestingly, even General Aziz’s own party barons complete silence speaks volumes about the anxiety levels in Mauritania about the Azawad war. One exception was Influential MP Sidi Ould Maham, and head of the regulatory Supreme Justice Court. He rejected the French intervention in Mali on the grounds that “Mauritania and Mali are the same country.” He must have meant to say: “the Mauritanian and Malian people are one.” ُThe most dangerous development so far came from Mauritania’s politically irrelevant Salafis. They did not miss this golden opportunity to make a stand. 39 figures signed a joint public declaration/Fatwa prohibiting and declaring anyone who assists in this war an apostate. This should be an alarm bell to any reasonable observer. Citing the Wala’ wa Albara’ doctrine is an implicit call to jihad. Even more alarming, is that one of the signatories is none other than Al-Majlissi– the allegedly repentant Mufti of Salafi Jihad.

Otherwise, it was refreshing to see condemnations of the Salafi fatwa come speedily and that they were widespread. Many columnists took them on immediately after the statement’s publication. The backlash seems to be working as one of the signatories already backed down from it.

All of these developments have in effect reframed the ongoing war in Azawad into an internal political wedge point. However, this is not merely partisan politics. It’s a deep anxiety about unleashing demons that could shake Mauritania to the core. Unfortunately, no one in Mauritanian society has taken the reasoning against the war to its honest intellectual conclusion. How come so many Mauritanian citizens are waging Jihad next door?

Maybe the answer is t0o unsettling for Mauritanians to contemplate, but it remains a question that must be addressed for the sake of the country’s peace, stability and prosperity. That would be the best help Mauritania’s foreign partners can provide: push for answers, and quickly.





A Dead Posh Mauritanian Jihadi

30 07 2010

A Lost Generation? (Via Alakhbar)

Unfortunately, the limited conversation ongoing in the West about AQIM is still uninformed by the realities of that group’s penetration in Mauritania; the analysis that is currently available focuses on the geopolitical and kinetic aspects of confronting the group. Little is said or shared about the alarming rise of Mauritanian youth being radicalized, indoctrinated and ultimately converted into militant Jihadis. For instance, no one has commented yet on the identity of the Mauritanian AQIM fighter who was killed during last week’s Franco-Mauritanian raid in Mali.

Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah, identified by the Mauritanian authorities as the Mauritanian of the group, challenges many assumptions about the spread of Jihadi ideology in Mauritanian society.

- Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah is one of three siblings who were recruited by AQIM. Two of his siblings are under arrest right now for alleged involvement in the killing of American citizen Christopher Leggett. in fact, they were the ones who identified him to Mauritanian security officials who brought photos of the dead gunmen to them in order to glean some fresh intel about AQIM fighters.

-Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah was arrested in 2006, and was sitting in prison until he was released in the amnesty declared by former President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in 2007. obviously, that was short-sighted decision: no one seems to have thought of the consequences of allowing such a hardened radical back into the nature.

-Judging by the failure of the so-called de-radicalization effort setup in late 2009 by General Aziz in partnership with Mauritania’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi spiritual leader, the problem at hand is not merely that we are dealing with some misguided youth who incidentally picked up the wrong brand of Islam.

More importantly than the above points:

-Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah is the son of a very wealthy businessman who hails from the Smasside tribe. This is former President Maaouyia Ould Taya’s tribe. The Smasside came to ABSOLUTELY dominate the Mauritanian economy under Taya’s rule in the 90’s through family-based cartels that were given a monopoly over fisheries, export and import, and representation of foreign commercial institution. As such, Ould Ahmednah had a guarenteed path to become, like many of his young tribesmen, a wealthy prosperous businessman. He chose otherwise.

You see where I am going? Ould Ahmednah and his siblings, are part of the country’s privileged elite. They were not driven into violent Jihadism by poverty. If anything, they were seduced by this ideology because Mauritania’s crumbling educational system fed them a belief that Islam is the core of their societies and that they are citizens of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

Yet, they cannot reconcile that ideal with the realities of a society crumbling before their eyes. The next simplistic leap of faith for them is that if society is straying, then it must be that it needs to return to its core values as those have been abandoned somewhere between the glorious mythical past of the Islamic Ummah they were taught, and modern day Mauritania.

As a Mauritanian by birth, I am haunted by my society’s inability to reconcile itself with its own past and identity. I feel that as long as Mauritania’s national narrative emphasizes Islam-a vague Islam at that- as the center of our national identity, we will be creating more Ould Ahmednahs. All it would take for someone (as the Muslim Brotherhood is doing right now) is to claim the mantle of Islam to disguise any ideological message to recruit a generation adrift and in search for bearings.

This is not at all a dismissal of Mauritania’s failed governance and in that respect, I am NOT optimistic. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of Mauritania’s elites who spend their time squabbling over political power without ever feeling the need to redefine their society and face its demons, ancient, and modern.

More later when I have more time to write..





Terrorists, Cell Phones: Death Sentences in Mauritania

26 05 2010

As reported by the excellent TMND blog, Mauritania’s Salafist trial drew to an end with a predictable outcome for the the killer trio behind the murders of French tourists back in the December 2007: Chabarnou, Ould Sidina, Ould Haiba.

Interestingly, many Mauritanians smell a rat when the ideologue Almajlisi gets off the hook rather lightly with a 3-year jail sentence. This is not a reassuring sign given that the gentleman in question is the thinking head legitimizing jihadi ideologies while the trio were merely foot soldiers or the desert version of desperados.

These three put on a tough face and lots of bravado till the end ordering Mauritanian reporters in the courtroom to stay away from female French journalists, in fact, the video posted above with a report filed by Aljazeera’s Nouakchott correspondent last week has Sidi Ould Sidina calling everyone around him apostates (Ahl Arridda) in a very disdainful tone so familiar to Hassaniya speakers. Many laughed at the dark humor in the scene very few foreigners picked on..

Another vignette from the same video that didn’t pass unnoticed by Mauritanias: the number of women clad in what my generation called “Ninjas” i.e women wearing niqab, a scene that is as alien in Nouakchott as it is in Paris or Stockholm. Mauritanians women (Moorish and Afro-Mauritanian) never covered their faces throughout Mauritania’s history.
The morality of the story is that while their numbers are still marginal, they are a sign of an alien cultural invasion that introduced Mauritanians to hereto unknown ideologies culminating in violent Jihadism.

As much one dislikes everything these young men stand for, it is hard to rejoice over their fate. They come to embody Mauritania’s government failure at curbing the spread of the various strains of the Islamist virus and its failure to treat them within the accepted human rights standards. they were tortured during their interrogations by the police, their trial was postponed unnecessarily for two years for purely political motives.

On a lighter note, the first casualties of this trial were cell phones: the security was so tight that anyone attending the trial had to leave their cell phone out. Not to be outdone, people started burying their phones outside the court in what became known as the phone cemetery to later retrieve them at the session’s end on every trial day. The only problem is that by the days’s end many could not remember exactly where they buried their phones..

One would hope that this trial’s lesson will not end up like those cell phones under Mauritania’s endless sand oceans.





Lax on Terrorists, Brutal on Journalists

17 01 2010

General Aziz: lax on terrorist, brutal on journalists

As anounced in my previous post, the Mauritanian supreme court examined Hanevy’s case and decided that his conviction was illegal. Shockingly, it ordered a second trial for him and kept him in jail to await a new trial for unspecified charges.

According to his defense team leader Attorney Brahim Ould Ebety, contacted by this blogger via phone, “this is a highly illegal procedure”. As hard as it is to believe, but it is also “the first time in all of Mauritania’s history that a case has been handled this way”. Here is why:

1- No laws sanctions electronic publications/content: Hanevy’s conviction on the charge of publishing “indecent content” is an aberration; no Mauritanian law on the books at the time of the trial sanctions, regulates or covers any electronic publications. Despite the judge’s explicit admission of this fact in his ruling, he still went ahead and convicted him nonetheless.

2- The attorney general violated the constitution and prison procedures: per the constitution, and the rules of procedure, Hanevy should have been released on the day he finished his sentenced because the law says very clearly that for a prisoner to be kept in prison, the warden should receive a duly signed order from a judge to admit a prisoner in. It has to be issued for this action to be taken as orders cannot be retroactively reissued.

3- The attorney general completely disregarded the rules and procedures of filing a motion to the supreme court on a case as it is clearly stipulated that should such a move be undertaken, the defense attorney should be notified in advance and has a a 15 day period to respond, then and only then, the case can be legally reviewed by the supreme court.

The reason for this extensive illegal jockeying is the government’s attempt to coverup its bad decisions, as it knows that it is standing on no legal grounds whatsoever, while still punishing Hanevy. In plain colloquial english, they know they messed up but they want another shot only to get the job done right this time. Let’s be clear here, General Aziz is personally out to punish Hanevy for his unrelenting criticism of his regime and methods.

Incredibly, Mr Ahmedou Tidjane Bal, the head of the supreme court was a former legal advisor to the Burundi UN office , and in more recent times a justice minister. He is seen here blithering a few days before Hanevy’s arrest last june at the UN human rights council in Geneva about human rights progresses in Mauritania. This detail is relevant as Mr Bal has a history of violating laws and procedures to satisfy his boss’ political agenda. The latest was his refusal as justice minister to order a district attorney to release former Prime Minister Ould Elwaghef when he was detained in another political witch hunt last year.

Salvador Dali, could not have imagined a better picture to paint; while General Aziz is unleashing his anger on a news website editor, he is fully engaged in a “dialogue” with terrorists validating the Ali Abdullah Saleh axiom: “lax with terrorists, tough with journalists”

A few days ago, the Mauritanian government through representatives from the justice, interior, and Islamic guidance ministries engaged in a bizarre exercise allowing the tenors of Mauritania’s Salafist movement to dialogue with self-confessed Al Qaeda terrorists including Sidina Ould Sidi arrested for shooting French tourists in December 2007, and for rampaging in Nouakchott after escaping from prison to be captured later by French Intelligence in Guinea.

The subject of this charming discussion has been the theory of Jihad, with the “nice” Salafists trying to convince the Al-Qaeda Jihadists, in the words of Ould Sidina, the killer of at least 5 people:

We have always called for dialogue through press interviews and are not against it, but we shall not give up our ideas until we are provided with proof from the Qur’an and the Sunna showing us any errors we may have committed. Otherwise, the other side should follow our opinions if they are are proven correct.

A guard in Nouakchott’s Central Prison is quoted by Saharamedia saying while his colleagues were busy scrubbing the floor and setting up a podium for the next round of dialogue:

This is the first time ever that a podium is set up in the prison to conduct a dialogue. There is no doubt that this is a historical event. We are setting up the space between Mauritania’s ulema and the terrorist (sic.) this looks like a big deal.

Yes, it is a big deal. Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and his fellow terrorists around the world are getting a raw deal. They are never allowed to speak publicly, nor is their terrorist ideology given a platform.

As you can see, the “new Mauritania” under the rule of General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz is a land where journalists who believe in the rule of law and freedom of speech are crushed, and murderous Al-Qaeda terrorists are free to voice their opinions with the full blessing of said government.

This is an outrage.








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