Renegade soldiers have affected a coup d’etat in Mali, West Africa, seizing the presidential palace on 21 March and declaring the end of the rule of President Amadou Toumani Toure in a televised address. The leaders of the group of armed officers that led the insurrection said they were taking over as the president has demonstrated his inability to fight a rebellion by Touareg separatists from the north, which has intensified over the past two months, and an increasingly emboldened Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The military group has formed a transitional council to organize new elections. The Touareg are seeking independence for the northern region of Mali, and their fighters are believed to have fought alongside Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. When they returned home to Mali, it was with a new empowerment. The Touareg are nomadic tribes relying on caravan trade and their activities have at times become intertwined with the extremely honed smuggling activities of AQIM. Though the two groups have little in common, and very different agendas, the past two months have opened a window of opportunity for cooperation and it is likely that AQIM is using the Touareg as subcontractors for its smuggling and terrorism operations. On the reverse side, however, the government has also used Touareg rebels in the past to fight against AQIM. Before the coup, Mali was scheduled to hold presidential elections in April. Mali is one of Africa’s largest gold producers.
Gaza Energy Crisis
Residents of Gaza are suffering an acute energy crisis, with 18-hour daily blackouts, massive queues for gas and fuel supplies running dangerously low – a situation that is growing particularly urgent for hospitals which rely on back-up generators during power cuts. The situation is the result of a dispute between Egypt and Gaza’s Hamas government. Illicit fuel supplies from Egypt are not forthcoming and Hamas is pulling out all the stops to negotiate not only more fuel from Egypt, but also a direct trade route from Egypt to Gaza, which would solidify Hamas’ rule. Egypt is balking at this deal, with its foreign policy direction in chaos since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak over a year ago. Rather than openly promote trade by opening a route to Gaza, Egypt has simply chosen instead to allow smuggling to flourish. Egypt, however, has its own shortages and the past month has seen much less fuel available for Hamas to smuggle to Gaza’s main power plant. Egyptian leaders were also irked by the fact that Hamas was making money off the deal by adding tariffs to subsidized fuel from Egypt. Cairo has in fact agreed to ship fuel to Gaza, but only if it were to transit through Israel, according to Western media sources citing an anonymous official. The Rafah crossing into Egypt is the only exit from Gaza that does not pass through Israel.
Yemen’s Saleh Raises the Stakes
The situation in Yemen threatens to spiral out of control as ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh – who resigned in a Saudi/Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal late last year and handed the presidency to his deputy, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi – re-enters the policy fray as the president of the ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC). Though Hadi was a hand-picked successor, his relationship with Saleh quickly transformed into one of all-out conflict. In the past days, Saleh has made it clear that he has no intent to relinquish power, and indeed his relatives still control the security apparatus and parts of the military. On 20 March, Saleh threatened to withdraw all his party members from the government and imprison the newly appointed prime minister. Saleh has lashed out at Hadi’s planned efforts to restructure the military and security apparatus. Since Hadi assumed power, attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and groups linked to it have increased exponentially and there are indications that Saleh is using AQAP to undermine the new regime and to launch a proxy war for a return to power.
EU Prepares for Somali Strike
There are indications that the European Union is close to winning support from its members for a mandate to launch airstrikes with warships and helicopters at pirate equipment on the coast of Somalia. The EU’s military operation to protect vessels targeted by pirates off the Somali coast (Operation Atalanta) has been running for four years now, but a new plan to authorize airstrikes directly on Somali beaches represents a marked acceleration in the operation. The strikes would target boats, transport vehicles, fuel and other supplies, if approved. There will be no discussion of deploying ground troops in Somalia, however. For now, Operation Atalanta largely escorts vessels and patrols key shipping routes in the area.