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Haven't We Seen This Movie Before?

The Open-Ended Global War on Terrorism

by PEPE ESCOBAR

And the winner of the Oscar for Best Sequel of 2013 goes to… The Global War on Terror (GWOT), a Pentagon production. Abandon all hope those who thought the whole thing was over with the cinematographic snuffing out of “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, further reduced to a fleeting cameo in the torture-enabling flick Zero Dark Thirty.

It’s now official – coming from the mouth of the lion, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and duly posted at the AFRICOM site, the Pentagon’s weaponized African branch.

Exit “historical” al-Qaeda, holed up somewhere in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas; enter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In Dempsey’s words, AQIM “is a threat not only to the country of Mali, but the region, and if… left unaddressed, could in fact become a global threat.”

With Mali now elevated to the status of a “threat” to the whole  world, GWOT is proven to be really open-ended. The Pentagon doesn’t do irony; when, in the early 2000s, armchair warriors coined the expression “The Long War”, they really meant it.

Even under President Obama 2.0′s “leading from behind” doctrine, the Pentagon is unmistakably gunning for war in Mali – and not only of the shadow variety. [1] General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, already operates under the assumption Islamists in Mali will “attack American interests”.

Thus, the first 100 US military “advisers” are being sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana – the six member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that will compose an African army tasked (by the United Nations) to reconquer (invade?) the parts of Mali under the Islamist sway of AQIM, its splinter group MUJAO and the Ansar ed-Dine militia. This African mini-army, of course, is paid for by the West.

Students of the Vietnam War will be the first to note that sending “advisers” was the first step of the subsequent quagmire. And on a definitely un-Pentagonese ironic aside, the US over these past few years did train Malian troops. A lot of them duly deserted. As for the lavishly, Fort Benning-trained Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, not only did he lead a military coup against an elected Mali government but also created the conditions for the rise of the Islamists.

Nobody, though, is paying attention. General Carter Ham is so excited with the prospect of AFRICOM accumulating more gigs than Led Zeppelin in its heyday, and himself acquiring iconic savior status (Carter of Africa?), that he’s bungling up his data. [2]

The general seems to have forgotten that AFRICOM – and then the North Atlantic treaty Organization (NATO) – irretrievably supported (and weaponized) the NATO rebels in Libya
who were the fighting vanguard in the war against Muammar Gaddafi. The general does know that AQIM has “a lot of money and they have a lot of weapons”.

But he believes it was “mercenaries paid by Gaddafi” who abandoned Libya and brought their weapons, and “many of them came to northern Mali”. No, general, they were not Gaddafi mercenaries; most were NATO rebels, the same ones who attacked the US Consulate, actually a CIA station, in Benghazi, the same ones commuting to Syria, the same ones let loose all across the Sahel.

So what is Algeria up to?

Right on cue, British Prime Minister David Cameron followed His Masters Voice, announcing the intervention in Mali will last years “or even decades”. [3]

This Tuesday, the creme de la creme of Britain’s intelligence establishment is meeting to plan nothing else than a pan-Sahara/Sahel war, for which they want yet another Bush-style “coalition of the willing”. [4] For the moment, British involvement means yet more “advisers” in the usual “military cooperation” and “security training” categories, lots of money and, last but not least, Special Forces in shadow war mode.

The whole scenario comes complete with another providential “Geronimo”; Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka “The Uncatchable” (at least by French intelligence), the leader of MUJAO who masterminded the raid on the In Amenas gas field in Algeria.

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Of course we did. But now – it’s official – Mali is the new Afghanistan (as Asia Times Online had already reported – Burn, burn Africa’s Afghanistan, January 18, 2013). Here’s Cameron: “Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in North Africa.” Right; Belmokhtar is already rehearsing for his cameo appearance in a Zero Dark Thirty sequel.

So by now it’s clear where the Anglo-American Pentagon/Africom/British intelligence “special relationship” stands – with the French under President Francois Hollande, reconverted as a warlord, momentarily “leading” the way towards Operation African Quagmire. Crucially, no one in the European Union, apart from the Brits, is loony enough to follow in the footsteps of warlord Hollande.

By comparison, what is definitely not clear is where the key to this equation – Algeria – stands, from the point of view of the Western GWOT.

Number one fact is that the new “Geronimo”, Belmokhtar, and his Mulathameen Brigade (“The Masked Ones”), of which the “Signed in Blood Batallion” which attacked in Algeria is a sub-group, enjoy extremely cozy links with Algerian secret intelligence. In a way, this could be seen as a remix of the relationship between the Taliban – and “historic” al-Qaeda – with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Algerian military’s ultra-hardcore response to the Islamist raid was predictable (this is how they did it during the 1990s in their internal war against the Islamic Salvation Front). We don’t negotiate with terrorists; we kill them (along with scores of hostages). We do it by ourselves, without nosy foreigners, and we go for total information blackout.

No wonder this modus operandi raised a rosary of eyebrows across the Anglo-American “special relationship”. Thus the Washington/London bottom line: we cannot trust the Algerians. Our GWOT – the Sahara/Sahel chapter – will be fought without them. Perhaps, even against them.

A serious complicating factor is that the 40 or so Islamists (including Libyans, Syrians and Egyptians) crossed at least 1,600 kilometers of high desert coming from Libya, not Mali. They had to have serious “protection” – anything from intelligence provided by a foreign power to qualified Algerian insiders. Hostages told of kidnappers “with North American accents” (including a Canadian whom Reuters has named “Chedad”) and that all of them knew exactly where the foreigners were located inside the compound. [5]

Professor Jeremy Keenan of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London frames it in terms of an Algerian false-flag operation gone wrong. [6] Algiers may have wanted to signal to the West that French bombing in Mali would inevitably lead to blowback; but then Belmokhtar turned the whole thing upside down because he was furious the French were allowed to own Algerian airspace to bomb Mali. In a way, this could be seen as another remix of the Taliban revolting against the ISI.

Algerian public opinion is immensely suspicious, to say the least, of all the players’ motives, including the Algerian government and especially France. Here is a fascinating sample. This perspective, by a political science professor, is worth quoting at length, as it neatly summarizes the French “lead” in the new GWOT chapter.

In an interview with the French-language daily Le Soir d’Algerie, political science professor Ahmed Adimi described the intervention as an attempt to “undermine Algeria” and a “step in a plan for the installation of foreign forces in the Sahel region”. Adimi’s thesis is that France has worked for years to destabilize the Sahel as a means of strengthening its geopolitical stance.

Asked whether the French operation in Mali was consistent with United Nations security council resolution 2085, Adimi states that the resolution “does not pose much of a problem in itself. Western powers have used it to intervene and adopt resolutions to justify their military operations. This has already happened in Iraq. In fact, the French operation may seem legal since it comes at the request of the Acting Present of Mali. However, it is important to remember that the current government came to power in a coup. Regarding the intervention, it was certainly predictable but the French have precipitated matters. [...] These terrorist groups are being manipulated by foreign powers,” continuing to argue that these groups were “allowed” to move south to Konna as means of justifying the French intervention.

Adimi argues that Algerians have “been sounding the alarm about the situation in the Sahel in general. Ahmed Barkouk and myself have organized several seminars on this topic. We discussed the role of France and its commitment to the region. It was France that was behind the creation of the movement for the Azawad, and I speak of course of the political organization and not of the people of Azawad, who have rights as a community. The French knew that their intervention in Libya would lead to a return of the pro-Qaddafi military Tuareg to Mali. They also planned the release of Libyan arms stockpiles across the Sahel band. The project is to transform the region into a new Afghanistan, the result of long-term planning.”

Tariq Ramadan, in a devastating piece, [7] also unmasks Paris, drawing the connection between the dodgy Sarkozy “humanitarian” intervention in Libya and the current Hollande drive to protect a “friendly” country – all coupled with the hypocrisy of France for decades not giving a damn about “the people” suffering under assorted African dictatorships.

But the Oscar for Best Hypocritical Scenario certainly goes to the current French-Anglo-American concern about Mali being the new al-Qaeda playground, when the major playgrounds are actually NATO-supported northern Syria (as far as the Turkish border), north Lebanon and most parts of Libya.

Follow the gold, and follow the uranium

Even before it’s possible to fully analyze the myriad ramifications – many of them unforeseen – of the expanded GWOT, there are two fronts to be carefully observed in the near future. So let’s follow the gold, and let’s follow the uranium.

Follow the gold. A host of nations have gold bullion deposited at the New York Federal Reserve. They include, crucially, Germany. Recently, Berlin started asking to get back its physical gold back – 374 ton from the Bank of France and 300 tons out of 1,500 tons from the New York Federal Reserve.

So guess what the French and the Americans essentially said: We ain’t got no gold! Well, at least right now. It will take five years for the German gold in France to be returned, and no less than seven years for the stash at the New York Federal Reserve. Bottom line: both Paris and Washington/New York have to come up with real physical gold any way they can.

That’s where Mali fits in – beautifully. Mali – along with Ghana – accounts for up to 8% of global gold production. So if you’re desperate for the genuine article – physical gold – you’ve got to control Mali. Imagine all that gold falling into the hands of… China.

Now follow the uranium. As everyone who was glued to the Niger yellowcake saga prior to the invasion of Iraq knows, Niger is the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium. Its biggest customer is – surprise! – France; half of France’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. The uranium mines in Niger happen to be concentrated in the northwest of the country, on the western range of the Air mountains, very close to the Mali border and one of the regions being bombed by the French.

The uranium issue is intimately connected with successive Tuareg rebellions; one must remember that, for the Tuaregs, there are no borders in the Sahel. All recent Tuareg rebellions in Niger happened in uranium country – in Agadez province, near the Mali border. So, from the point of view of French interests, imagine the possibility of the Tuaregs gaining control of those uranium mines – and starting to do deals with… China. Beijing, after all, is already present in the region.

All this crucial geostrategic power play – the “West” fighting China in Africa, with AFRICOM giving a hand to warlord Hollande while taking the Long War perspective – actually supersedes the blowback syndrome. It’s unthinkable that British, French and American intelligence did not foresee the blowback ramifications from NATO’s “humanitarian war” in Libya. NATO was intimately allied with Salafis and Salafi-jihadis – temporarily reconverted into “freedom fighters”. They knew Mali – and the whole Sahel – would subsequently be awash in weapons.

No, the expansion of GWOT to the Sahara/Sahel happened by design. GWOT is the gift that keeps on giving; what could possibly top a new war theatre to the French-Anglo-American industrial-military-security-contractor-media complex?

Oh yes, there’s that “pivoting” to Asia as well. One is tempted to donate a finger – extracted Islamist-style – to know how and when will come the counterpunch from Beijing.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

Notes

1. Mali conflict exposes White House-Pentagon split, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2013.

2. African nations can, must do for themselves – with US support, December 4, 2012.

3. David Cameron: fight against terrorism in north Africa may last decades, The Guardian, January 20, 2013.

4. Intelligence chiefs and special forces plot Sahara mission, The Independent, January 21, 2013.

5. In Amenas : les ex-otages racontent quatre jours d’angoisse, Liberation, January 20, 2013. (In French).

6. Algeria Hostage Crisis: Terror Attack ‘Inside Job’ Gone Wrong, Says Professor Jeremy Keenan, The Huffington Post, January 19, 2013.

7. Le Mali, la France et les extremistes, journaldumali.com, January 18, 2013. (In French).

This column originally appeared on Asia Times.