An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”

AP reports that a group linked to al-Qaida’s North Africa branch, al-Mourabitoun, has claimed responsibility for an attack last week on a camp in northern Mali used by government troops and former rebels, killing 71 and wounding 115. The government has proclaimed three days of mourning.

Inquiring minds wants to know: how is it that al-Qaeda, perhaps a few thousand strong in 2001when it enjoyed a foothold in Afghanistan, with cells around the world but no territory and no significant impact elsewhere, sixteen years later (despite trillions spent to defeat al-Qaeda) now controls swathes of territory in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and—but for French intervention—could control northern Mali? Why has its spin-off ISIL been even more effective in carving out an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, erasing the colonial border?

The facts are:

(1) the U.S./NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 did not weaken al-Qaeda, which found new refuge in Pakistan, but merely produced an endless conflict between the warlord-based puppet regime and the Taliban;

(2) the Iraq War beginning in 2003, based on the lies that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and close links to al-Qaeda, and the harsh policies of the occupation regime towards the Sunni minority, produced a golden opportunity for al-Qaeda to—for the first time—establish a base in Anbar Province and exploit Sunni-Shiite tensions to expand its influence in Iraq, then Syria;

(3) a faction of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria broke off to form ISIL and establish capitals in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq;

(4) U.S. (and Turkish, Qatari and Saudi) efforts to topple the secular government of Assad, in their inability to recruit actual “moderate” Syrian fighters unwilling or unable do to their weakness to cut ties with the al-Qaeda franchise called al-Nusra, has resulted in strengthening the group that now calls itself Fateh al-Sham;

(5) U.S. sabotage of a promising U.S.-Russian plan for a ceasefire in Syria by an attack last Sept. 17 on an army camp near Deir Ezzor, killing 62 government  troops doing battle with ISIL, has paved the way for the likely ISIL conquest of Deir Ezzor, even as Palmyra (once liberated with Russian help) is once again under ISIL’s control, more of its precious monuments pulverized by the bloody thugs;

(6) the U.S./NATO unprovoked attack on Libya in 2011 sowed chaos in that country and the region, providing al-Qaeda one more opportunity to establish a foothold there for the first time, and to expand into the Sahel;

(7) U.S. insistence on regime change in Yemen in 2011 threw that country into turmoil, invited a brutal Saudi invasion and provided new opportunities for al-Qaeda expansion (including the conquest of the port of Mukkala);

(8) U.S. interventions in the Middle East and North Africa have sent over a million refugees into Europe, who include terrorists from both al-Qaeda and ISIL, producing fear huge social tensions;

(9) U.S. actions, ostensibly against al-Qaeda, in both Iraq and Syria, have not quelled al-Qaeda and ISIL but encouraged Kurdish nationalism and separatism in Iraq and Syria, pitting the U.S. squarely against its NATO ally Turkey, which fears Kurdish separatism at home, and also pitting Ankara against the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, paving the way for confrontations in northern Iraq in the future (between U.S. allies);

(10) the destruction of the modern secular Iraqi state, justified by its (fake news) al-Qaeda associations, has empowered Shiites in Iraq, aligned informally with Shiites in Syria, Lebanon, and especially Iran—viewed by the key U.S. ally in the region (the Sunni theocracy of Saudi Arabia) as a state run by dangerous heretics, threatening the position of Sunni Islam in majority Shiite but Sunni-ruled Bahrain, Yemen (where Shiite Houthis continue to control the capital of Sana despite savage Saudi bombardment), and Saudi Arabia itself (where Shiites preponderate in the oil-rich eastern province); it has produced a general Sunni-Shiite (and Saudi-Iranian) confrontation few in Washington are equipped to understand.

In sum: disaster after disaster have accompanied the open-ended “War on Terror” proclaimed by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda has grown and creatively broadened its terror activities, in no small part by using social media to encourage independent solo actions. European cities live in fear from Islamist terrorist attacks far more than they did 2001. The military position of the Taliban (the indigenous jihadi organization whose ties to al-Qaeda were always exaggerated by the press) in Afghanistan is stronger than at any time since 2001. ISIL continues to hold Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa and Palmyra (tragic Palmyra, being blown up as we speak) in Syria.

The car bombing near Gao, Mali on January 18 was declared by al-Qaeda’s al-Mourabitoun chapter as “punishment for [Mali’s] cooperation with France.” But isn’t it also punishment for those responsible for War-Based-on-Lies in 2003, that France actually opposed—the neocons in Washington with their grand scheme for the reconfiguration of the Middle East, to better service U.S. imperialism and the needs of its Israeli junior partner?


Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: