France in Africa
The company operating Libya's biggest oilfield, Sharara, announced March 4 that it had been shut down after a citizen closed the pipeline that pumps the field's oil to al-Zawiya refinery. The field is run by a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation with Spain's Repsol, French Total, Austria's OMV and Norway's Statoil. The individual, named as Hatem al-Hadi from Zintan, claimed the pipeline passes through his land and caused environmental pollution, the Mellitah Oil & Gas consortium said in a statement. The same person reportedly closed the pipeline last year and then reopened after the company pledged that his six hectares of land would be cleaned. The company has apparently failed to follow through on its promise. With this latest closure of the Sharara field, Libya's oil output dropped to a six-month low of 750,000 barrels per day, after reaching 1 million bpd last year.
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 desert town of Kidal in northern Mali is under siege, divided into hostile camps by rival Tuareg factions—the pro-government Platform coalition, led by the GATIA militia, and the separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). Jihadist insurgents meanwhile harass the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA in sporadic attacks from the desert. (Reuters, Oct. 17) Now there are signs that the jihadists are again trying to draw the separatist Tuarges into an alliance. On Oct. 9, renegade North African al-Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar issued an online statement eulogizing Sheikh ag-Aoussa, a CMA leader who was killed in an explosion in Kidal the day before. Ag Aoussa's car blew up as he was leaving a meeting at the town's MINUSMA compound. Authorities maintain the car hit a land mine, but CMA followers charge that Ag Aoussa was assassinated. (LWJ, Oct. 14)
The bodies of 14 civilians were found July 22 in a landfill in Benghazi's Lathi neighborhood, which is under the control of "Operation Dignity" forces, led by renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar. The victims included the imam from the local mosque, Abdullah al-Fakhri, a revered community figure and a father of three. The bodies showed signs of torture as well as gunshots to the head. The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, denounced the executions, calling them a war crime. "Those responsible must be held accountable and brought to justice," he said. Operation Dignity forces are attempting to tighten their grip as the Benghazi Defense Brigades, a group of armed IDPs, announced a drive to take the city by force. (Libya Herald, Libya Observer, July 22)
Jihadists attacked the Splendid Hotel in the central Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, setting cars ablaze and firing randomly, leaving 28 dead on Jan. 15. All but five of those killed were foreigners. The siege ended with a joint operation by Burkinabe and French commandos, in which at least four assailants were killed—including both Arabs and Black Africans. French special forces are stationed outside Ouagadougou as part of ongoing counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel. In an online statement entitled "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the attack was carried out by "mujahideen brothers" of its West African franchise, al-Mourabitoun. The statement boasted of "many dead Crusaders," although the victims appear to have been entirely civilians. (BBC News, DW, RFI, AP, NYT)
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)
Last month, the New York Times reported that China is to establish its first overseas military base as part of "a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad." The base, in the Horn of Africa mini-state of Djibouti, will be used for policing the Gulf of Aden against piracy. The US also has 4,000 troops stationed at Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier—from which it conducts drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. Former colonial master France as well as Japan and other nations also station forces in Djibouti. (The Hill, Dec. 10) Now reports are mounting that China is seeking a second base in Africa—this time in Nambia, which currently hosts no foreign military forces.