AQIM continues to grab headlines in the Sahel. After releasing a hostage last week, they claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on an army base in Niger on Friday. This follows a separate attack on soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.
Last week several commenters and I were discussing the meaning of these events, particularly the question of whether AQIM has a coherent strategy. Whatever the case, governments in the region are attempting, yet again, to refine their strategies. Tomorrow, “foreign Ministers from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will attend [a] one-day meeting” outside of Algiers to discuss counterterrorism measures.
The meeting takes place amidst diplomatic tensions between different countries in the region.
Algeria is the region’s biggest economic and military power with years of experience of fighting an Islamist rebellion on its own territory. But it has been reluctant to get involved in tackling al Qaeda beyond its borders.
“We want to see Algeria take the lead in coordinating a regional response to the AQIM problem. This cannot be sorted out piecemeal or it will just push the threat elsewhere in the region,” said a diplomat in the region.
The talks in the Algerian capital will be the first high-level meeting in years among Saharan states that has been devoted to countering the insurgency.
Relations between the region’s governments reached a low last month after Mali freed four suspected Islamist militants whose release was demanded by al Qaeda in return for sparing the life of French hostage Pierre Camatte.
Algeria and Mauritania withdrew their ambassadors to Mali in protest and the Algerian government said Mali’s actions were playing into the hands of the insurgents.
More on the Algeria-Mauritania-Mali rift here.
Regional leaders like Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure have been calling for such a summit for a long time, and planned summits were repeatedly postponed. Does that indicate a lack of political will to cooperate? And does this summit signal a change? We’ll have to see, though some are already skeptical. And as one final thought, does the presence of countries like Burkina Faso and Chad (rather than just Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria) signal a change in the level of regional concern over the issue of AQIM? And will Morocco’s absence hurt the summit’s prospects for success? A lot of questions.