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. 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.
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."
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." 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.