North Africa Theater
The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)
A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)
The International Organization for Migration reports that its staff have documented shocking conditions on North African migrant routes—including what they describe as "slave markets" faced by hundreds of young African men bound for Libya. Staff with the IOM's office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as "SC" to protect his identity), who was returning to his home after being held captive for months. According to SC's testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he paid a trafficker 200,000 CFA (about $320) to arrange trasnport north to Libya. But when the pick-up truck reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn't been paid by the trafficker, and brought the migrants to an area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. "Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them," IOM staff reported.
A Tunisian court sentenced British DJ Dax J to a year in prison on April 6 for "public indecency" and "offending public morality" after the artist played a remix of the Muslim call to prayer in a nightclub. The nightclub was subsequently shut down and charges were filed against the club's owner and the organizer of the event where Dax J was playing. These charges were subsequently dropped, but the prosecution appealed the dropped charges claiming the owner and organizer still maintain liability. Tunisia's religious affairs ministry commented on the charges and conviction saying: "Mocking the opinions and religious principles of Tunisians is absolutely unacceptable."
The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if required...to take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)
Human Rights Watch said March 21 that members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) may have committed war crimes in Benghazi on and around March 18. Benghazi has been center of stand-off between the LNA and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) for almost two years. On March 18, dozens of civilians attempted to flee the Ganfouda neighborhood of the city. Some of the civilians were accompanied by BRSC soldiers. Relatives of some of the civilians who fled stated that LNA fighters intercepted roughly seven fleeing families, attacking and killing some of them and detaining others. There have also been photos and videos of LNA fighters mutilating and desecrating the corpses of BRSC fighters. LNA leadership has made statements denouncing the actions of those fighters, and pledging to arrest those who have committed the violations. The LNA has also justified some other actions believed to be war crimes. This includes a video of an LNA captain shooting three restrained men in the back with a machine gun as they kneeled facing a wall. An LNA special forces spokesman defended the incident as having occurred "within the battlefields."
Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)
The Benghazi Defense Brigades seized Libya's key oil ports from warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity forces, and urged the Tripoli-based "official" Government of National Accord to take control of the country's long-contested "oil crescent." The militia apparently took Ras Lanuf and other key oil terminals to press demands for displaced persons from Benghazi, long contested by Haftar’s forces and Islamist factions, to be able to safely return to their homes. "We will not stay inside the oil crescent region, once we secure it back from Haftar’s mercenaries, we will hand it over to the legitimate official authorities," the Benghazi Defense Brigades said in a statement. (Libyan Express, March 4)