AQIM beliefs are simple: Overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic State, to which they have entered into insurgency operations within Algeria and the surrounding Sahara.
Part 2: The Players
AQIM founded in 1998 and has known affiliations with Al Qaeda, along with suspected strong ties to the Al-Shabaab jihadist group operating within Somalia and the surrounding Horn of Africa. AQIM funds their cause through kidnapping for ransom, and it’s estimated they have raised more than $50 million in the last 10 years. AQIM was previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching Combat, or the GSPC. GSPC was founded by Hassan Hattab in 1998. After some inter-party disagreements, Hattab was replaced in 2003 by a man named Nabil Sahraoui, or Sheikh Abou Ibrahim Mustapha, and he quickly pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda shortly after taking over. After his untimely death in 2004, another man, Abu Musab Abdel, took the reigns.
The Former leader of the group (Hassan Hattab) called on his brothers and other members of GSPC/AQIM to accept amnesty from the Algerian government by simply throwing down their weapons and ending their insurgency. This was answered in 2006 when Ayman al-Zawahri announced a “blessed union” between the two groups and declared France as the enemy. Zawahri also promised joint ventures in the disruption of US and French interests in the region.
Membership within AQIM widely varies with some reports saying 200 to 400 fighters, while others claim up to 4,000. With recent air strikes conducted by the Tunisian Air Force in the Mount Chaambi region along the border of Algeria, three prominent party leaders assassinated, and growing disapproval of the current regime in Tunisia, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that along with Mali, Tunisia may become a hot spot for AQIM recruitment and subsequent attacks into this country.
Boko Haram Nigeria
Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2001—its main focus is to enforce sharia law and “purify Islam.” Yusuf has also been quoted to say, “Western education is sinful.” Boko Haram has known ties with AQIM and Al-Shabaab. The group is known for attacking Christians, bombing churches and attacking schools. It has since moved into attacking police barracks and local military convoys. It’s suspected that this new tactic is training received from AQIM.
Boko Haram has been very active and this group was responsible for 1,100 deaths in 2011/2012 alone. Since its inception, Boko Haram has been responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths. The most noted was the violent sectarian attacks in July 2009, killing 1,000 people. Boko Harams current leader is a man named Abubaker Shekau.
Boko Haram’s main mode of transportation is motorbikes. With most of the attacks located in and along the border of Nigeria, I suspect the group has base camps and/or training grounds in the southern Niger region that feeds mostly into the Sahara. And with the depth and swiftness of these new attacks, one can jump to the conclusion that they have been using the improved arterial roadways running south, mainly the A4 and A3 highway systems. Nigeria for the most part has been handling the threat.
U.S. Army Special Forces A teams are conducting basic to advanced marksmanship training and other counter-terror/counter insurgency (CT/COIN) operational “train the trainer” sessions with their Nigerian counterparts as well, thus preparing the potential battlefield with SOF-trained indigenous troops for potential future SOF operations in the region. All of this adds “meat” to reports being penned, no doubt by the Pentagon, on why there needs to be a larger presence of the U.S. military in this region.
Where The Drones Sleep
The interesting thing about this region is the amount of UAV hardware so readily available to those who ally themselves with the U.S. Government. There are six total drone bases on and around the African/Gulf region; four are active, and two are relatively new allocations.
The first and most well known is the Djibouti drone operations center located on Camp Lemonnier. This location can cover all of the Horn, as well as deep into Yemen and surrounding borders. Camp Lemonier is, no doubt, the sleeping place for most of the Predator and Reaper drones that prowl the skies over Sana’a.
The second active base is in Ankara, Turkey. The Turkish Air Force runs these, and ordered six MQ-1 Predator drones, along with three MQ-1s “leased” to the Turkish government by the U.S. military. These drones are under Turkish military command, but are operated by a joint U.S./Turk unit. This base can cover Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and, if needed, China.
Third base is in Foggia, Italy, a beautiful southern Italian Air Force base with a 400-500KM-drone flight to the Algerian/Tunisian borders. Based with the 28th Gruppo (Unmanned Aerial Wing) of the 32nd Stormo Armando Boetto Fighter Wing, this installation can cover Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and into Algeria.
The fourth active base is in Morocco, and is operated by the Royal Moroccan Air Force. The Moroccan government took delivery of four MQ-1 Predator and four RQ-1 Reaper drones, along with BAE Systems SkyEyes and GNAT to help the U.S. and France “eradicate” AQIM in Mali.
With Niger already becoming a new drone base, and the UAE taking shipment of drones in late summer of 2013. it would seem that there is an invisible umbrella of real-time surveillance going on over the entire continent of Africa and the Middle East. The focus falls on Niamey.
A new drone base manned by at least 100 American military personnel on the ground and a new Status of Forces Agreement stating that Americans will be armed only to protect themselves means one thing: Case Officers. They will be everywhere in and around Niamey. The Agency’s fingers will begin to slip into the fabric of the region and onto the whole of Western Africa. The improvements to the U.S. Embassy are complete and upgraded, and is no doubt ready to support anything the Agency will require in such a target-rich environment. Once a network of agents is trained, organized and actively collecting HUMINT/SIGINT, it’s only a matter of time before JSOC gets the “green light” to operations within AOR Sahara.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Reuters)
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