North Africa Theater
Amid continued confused multi-factional warfare in Libya, Islamist militias on Feb. 23 reportedly lost two major areas in the contested eastern city of Benghazi. Fighters loyal to anti-Islamist Gen Khalifa Haftar are reported to have taken over the port, a hospital and have cut off a key weapons supply line. (BBC News) Meanwhile, Libya Dawn militia forces loyal to the rebel government that controls Tripoli were mobilized to the western town of Sabratha, after ISIS militants seized several key positions there, including the main hospital. (Libya Herald) In England, the defense spokesman for the hard-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) warned that Libya could be the "EU's Vietnam," citing a supposed leak of documents revealing plans to expand "Operation Sophia" to put European "boots on the ground" in the North African country. (UKIP, Feb. 18)
US warplanes hit an ISIS camp at Sabratha, about 70 kilometers west of Tripoli, killing at least 49—said to be mostly foreign fighters who were preparing an attack in Europe. The camp was said to be led by Noureddine Chouchane AKA "Sabir"—a Tunisian militant held to be responsible in last year's terror attacks in Tunisia. "We took this action against Sabir in the training camp after determining that both he and the ISIL fighters at these facilities were planning external attacks on US and other Western interests in the region," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. "We see what's happening in Iraq and Syria and we believe that these fighters in Libya posed a threat to our national security interests." He said the strikes were carried out "with the knowledge of Libyan authorities" but declined to confirm exactly who had been informed. Ironically, the Islamist-led rebel government in Tripoli said it supported the air-strikes, while the internationally recognized government exiled to Libya's east condemned them. (Libya Herald, Feb. 20; CNN, BBC News, Feb. 19)
A MiG-23 fighter of Libya's internationally recognized government was shot down Feb. 12 as it carried out air-strikes in Benghazi, where the military is battling Islamist militias, some loyal to the rebel government that controls Tripoli. A military spokesman said the plane was bombing positions of the Mujahedeen Shura Council. But in an online statement, ISIS claimed its fighters downed the plane, according to SITE Intelligence Group. The pilot is believed to have survived, having parachuted to safety, although his whereabouts are unknown. This was apparently the second downing of a Libyan warplane that week. Four days earlier, another regime MiG-23 crashed near the eastern city of Derna after attacking ISIS positions—although the official LANA news agency blamed "technical problems." In early January, another government MiG 23 came down in Benghazi. (AFP, Feb. 13)
The Algerian Parliament on Feb. 6 approved a package of constitutional reforms by a vote of 499-2, with 16 abstentions. The reforms include a two-term limit for the office of the president and recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language in Algeria. Amazigh is spoken by the nation's indigenous Berber population. While Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in 2002, the constitutional reforms mean the language will be accepted on official government documentation. The two-term limit was lifted in 2008 to allow current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term. Bouteflika was elected to another five-year term in 2014, but concerns about his health following a stroke in 2013 have led many to question if he will remain in office until the end of this term in 2019. The Algerian press service announced the new constitution, calling it a "consecration of the rule of law and true democracy." Supporters of the constitutional reforms in Algeria argue the new laws will support real democracy, while critics suggest there will be little practical change.
Unidentified warplanes or drones bombed Libya's eastern city of Derna Feb. 7, reportedly hitting Shura Council locations. Shura Council sources confirmed to local media that two of their fighters were killed. A woman and her child were also among dead—by some accounts, killed in a strike on a hospital in the city. A wing of the city's al-Wehda hospital was said to be "completely destroyed." The Shura Council is aligned with the Islamist-led Libya Dawn coalition that controls most of Libya's west, and has been battling ISIS forces for control of the city. (Libya Observer, Reuters, AFP, Feb. 7) Derna is an Islamist-controlled enclave in eastern Libya, which is mostly controlled by the more secularist "official" government. The "official" government last month rejected a UN-brokered deal to unite the two rival regimes—both of which are now threatend by the growing ISIS presence in the country.
Clashes between Berber and Sahrawi students at universities in the Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Agadir on Jan. 23 have left two Berbers dead, with the second succumbing to his injuries four days later. The Amazigh Cultural Movement, representing Berber students, is blaming the youth wing of the Polisario Front in the killings, and calling for a government crackdown on the organization. The rival protests concerned the fate of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front seeks to establish an independent Sahrawi Arab republic. Berbers (Amazigh) in the territory oppose establishment of an Arab nationalist state, and say that Berbers are repressed in those areas of the the territory controlled by Polisario, as well as in the Polisario-run Tindouf refugee camp just across the border in Algeria. (SIWEL, Bladi, Jan. 28; Telquel, Amazigh24, Jan. 27)
The internationally-recognized Libyan parliament voted Jan. 25 to reject a proposal by the UN-supported unity government to curb the country's political crisis. In an 89-15 vote, the parliament rejected the cabinet selected by the UN-backed Presidential Council and said the council would be dissolved if it failed to form a new, smaller cabinet in 10 days. Libya's government is currently fractured—the internationally-recognized authorities and parliament in Tobruk, and the rebel-backed authority holding power in Tripoli. The unity government was created by the Libyan Political Agreement in July (formalized in December) and intends to bridge the splintered government. The nine-member PC has the authority to choose the cabinet of the new unity government. Many members of the competing political authorities denounced the agreement as not fairly representative of all Libyan factions.
Thousands of members of the Amazigh (Berber) people marched Jan. 12 in Tizi Ouzou, the central city of Algeria's Kabylia region, to assert their right to self-determination and oppose constitutional changes proposed earlier this month by the central goverment. The march marked the Amazigh new year celebration, Yennayer, and was called before the constitutional changes were announced. But protesters rejected proposed changes to the official status of the Berber language, Tamazight. The constitutional reform—in addition to limiting presidents to two terms, a concession to pro-democracy advocates—makes Tamazight an "official language." This upgrades its current status as a "national language," instated in 2002 following a wave of Berber protests the previous year. But the new protesters consider the change inadequate, and also reject constitutional provisions that only Arabic-speaking Muslims can be elected to public office. The Berber movement is now pressing for actual independence from Algeria. Marches were also held in other towns across Kabylia, and 40 protesters were arrested in connection with the mobilization, although no violence was reported. (The Guardian, TSA-Algerie, Tamurt, Jan. 12)