Eliza Griswold writes: Stretching from west to east across Africa – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea – the Sahel today is a militant’s dream. Despite the French military’s recent routing of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies in northern Mali, the threat of safe haven for the west’s enemies is not going to end there any time soon.
Although, for the moment, the militia have melted from sight, the latest battles in Algeria and Mali are harbingers of a larger catastrophe: the Sahel, the vast grassland north of the equator, has become the latest battleground in the west’s war against Islamist militants.
France’s plans to withdraw its 4,000 troops from Mali in late March are premature. From the air, US surveillance drones and French fighter planes will not be enough to keep peace in the Sahel – which includes Mauritania, southern Algeria, northern Mali, Chad and Sudan, as well as Somalia, where a 2006 Ethiopian invasion, tacitly backed by the US, looked at first like an utter defeat for the Islamists. Six months later, the militants returned to wage exactly the kind of war Ethiopia and the US had feared.
So how does the west avoid repeating the pattern? By understanding the root causes of the troubles that plague the Sahel. [Continue reading…]