North Africa Theater
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.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Dec. 2 that thousands of people, including children, are being arbitrarily detained in Libya. The report highlights torture and other forms of ill-treatment in four prisons in Tripoli and Misrata, which were personally visited by HRW representatives. The report is based upon interviews conducted by HRW with 120 detainees, none of whom have been charged with a crime or granted the opportunity to appear before a judge. According to HRW, the detainees provided "credible and consistent" accounts of mistreatment. HRW representatives saw signs of mistreatment such as beatings on the soles of the feet with plastic pipe, electrical cable, chains, sticks, fists, and even horsewhips; suspension from doors or ceilings for hours; electrical shocks; and solitary confinement. Stating that "Prolonged detention without judicial reviews is a grave violation of international law and may amount to a crime against humanity," HRW urged the UN Security Council to increase pressure on Libya to order the immediate release of all those who have been wrongfully detained. HRW has also called upon the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open an investigation into arbitrary detentions in Libya.
The Independent cites a report from the UN Security Council finding that ISIS is preparing a "retreat zone" in Libya as coalition air-strikes (and a ground offensive by Kurdish-led forces, as the account fails to note) threaten the group's territory in Iraq and Syria. The Libyan affiliate is said to be the one ISIS franchise actually operating under the direction of the leadership in Iraq and Syria. The leadership is said to view Libya as "a potential retreat and operational zone for Isil fighters unable to reach the Middle East." The Libya franchise is said to have between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters. Franchise leader Abu al-Mughirah al-Qahtani is quoted boasting of the country's importance due to its proximity to southern Europe and its abundance of resources "that cannot dry."