North Africa Theater
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)
At least two members of Libya's Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed Jan. 4 as ISIS militants attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals. Militants launched two suicide car-bomb attacks at the security gate of the Sidra facility in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, some 30 kilometers to the east. One of the facility's storage tanks was set ablaze in the assault. The attack comes two weeks after French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that ISIS was planning to seize Libya's oil facilities. Sidra and Ras Lanouf are under control of the internationally recognized government based in Libya's east, but last year were the scene of battles as Libya Dawn forces loyal to the Tripoli-based regime attempted to take the facilities. Sidra and Ras Lanouf lie near the border between the rival regimes' territories They also lie just east of Sirte, the principal ISIS stronghold in Libya. (Libya Herald, BBC News, CBS, Jan. 4)
French special forces, as part of the ongoing Operation Barkhane, carried out a raid in northern Mali over the weekend, targeting the jihadist group al-Murabitoon. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the raid "neutralized 10 terrorists"—with "neutralized" usually serving as a euphemism for killed. The town of Menaka, in the Gao region, was taken over by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in 2012, which is now said to be one of al-Murabitoon's constituent groups. MUJAO was driven from Gao in the 2013 French intervention but has continued to wage an insurgency in the region. In April, al-Murabitoon launched a suicide assault on the nearby town of Ansongo, killing three civilians and wounding 16 others including nine Nigerien peacekeepers. (Long War Journal, Dec. 23)
Frustratingly vague accounts indicate that a contingent of US Special Forces sent to fight ISIS in Libya were chased off by a local militia. The troops chose to leave "in an effort to avoid conflict," a US Africa Command spokesman told the BBC, but doesn't tell us much about the hostile militia. Stars & Stripes says the US troops were sent to an airbase near the ISIS-held town of Sabratha, in Libya's west, but doesn't tell us which of the country's rival regimes controls the base. Libya Herald names the base as al-Wattiyah, controlled by forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. That is the internationally-recognized government, based in the eastern city of Bayda, with its parliament in Tobruk. Sabratha and al-Wattiyah are actually west of Tripoli, seat of the Libya Dawn coalition that controls most of the country's west, but appears to be a western pocket loyal to the Thinni government—now threatened by ISIS. It appears uncertain if the hostile militia was ostensibly loyal to the eastern regime. Representatives of the rival regimes signed a deal in Morocco on this week, agreeing to form a national unity government—but the incident at al-Wattiyah indicates how tenuous their actual control of ground forces is, even in areas ostensibly under their control.