• China
    Macron’s Algeria Trip, Drought in China, Anniversary of Afghanistan Withdrawal, and More
    The United States marks one year since its military withdrawal from Afghanistan; China goes through a severe drought, with repercussions for agriculture, energy, and supply chains; and French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Algeria to try to mend relations.
  • Mali
    French-Led Decapitation Strike on AQIM in Mali
    On June 5, France announced that its forces killed Abdelmalek Droukdel and many in his inner circle. Droukdel was the "emir" or leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The attack took place on June 3. France also announced the capture of Mohamed Mrabat, the group commander in Mali of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who was taken in May. France has said that the operations were carried out with the intelligence and surveillance support of Algeria the United States. The decapitation strike, killing many in the leadership of AQIM, is a major achievement of France and its partners, and is likely to reduce the terror group’s ability to conduct attacks for the immediate future. It may also reduce domestic criticism in France of the Macron administration about what seems to be an interminable war that resembles U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But, "decapitation" does not mean defeat. The killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019 has not led to the end of their respective organizations, but rather to new leadership. It should be anticipated that AQIM will similarly find new leadership, albeit after a likely bloody internal struggle, and the Islamic State will find a replacement for Mrabat.  Jihadi terrorism, whether of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda variety, has roots in a variation of the Salafist revival that seeks a purified Islam and the establishment of a polity based on Islamic law. Further, it reflects local ethnic rivalries and the popular resentment of exploitive post-colonial elites, fed partly by extreme poverty. The death of Droukdel does not mean that these drivers of terrorism are going away. Droukdel's career is emblematic of the Algerian dimension to terrorism in the western Sahel. Born in 1971, Droukdel was Algerian and well educated, with a degree in mathematics from an Algerian university. He is thought to have first fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s before returning to Algeria. He was an active participant in that country’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. The war left between 150,000 and 200,000 people dead, and was noteworthy for its brutality. It resulted from an army coup following an Islamist victory in general elections. The army largely prevailed though there was a political settlement accepted by some—though not all—jihadists. Subsequent Algerian governments have pushed residual jihadi groups south into the Sahel, so that jihadi and criminal groups (they often overlap) operating in Mali, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere sometimes have Algerian roots.  Droukdel continued the fight after the civil war ended in 2002. Highly charismatic and a good speaker, he eventually merged his own group with al-Qaeda. He was sentenced to death in absentia by an Algerian court for three bomb attacks in Algiers in 2007. A munitions expert, he is likely to have introduced suicide bombing in Algeria, from whence it spread to elsewhere in West Africa. He led the 2015 assault on a hotel in Ouagadougou that left 30 dead and 150 injured. He credibly is associated with kidnapping operations in the Western Sahel. This post has been updated to add a source. 
  • Middle East and North Africa
    Don’t Hold Your Breath for Democratic Change in the Middle East
    The region is accustomed to cycles of protest and political upheaval, so it’s better not to bank on successful revolutions.
  • Middle East and North Africa
    Europe’s Future Will Be Decided in North Africa
    The United States should stop treating the region as secondary to the rest of the Middle East.
  • Middle East and North Africa
    It’s Time for the United States to Rethink How We See North Africa
    The news out of Algeria continues to intrigue.  Now that ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, has stepped down, Algerians and people around the world wonder if real change is afoot, or if the powers that have long surrounded the frail former president will try to hang on. The answers matter a great deal – not just for Algerians, but for the region. Instability in Algeria could prove toxic to fragile neighbors, and the tangle of conflicts, criminality, and disenfranchisement that plagues the Sahelian states cannot be sustainably addressed without Algerian buy-in.  At the same time, the example being set in Algeria is being watched closely even by fairly distant populations like the Sudanese, who would like to see their own stale leadership step aside and allow the country to chart a new course. Algeria and its neighbors matter a great deal to the rest of Africa. The reverse is also true; Morocco is betting its economic future on African markets. For the United States, the interrelationships are perhaps most painfully obvious in the case of Libya, where the United States’ failure to anticipate lasting diplomatic blowback from disregarding the African Union, and more importantly an insufficient grasp of the security consequences of Libyan disorder for states like Mali and Nigeria, were among the serious mistakes that informed deeply flawed policy. But the United States government has long been of two minds about how to think about northern African states. For some agencies, like the Department of Defense, states like Algeria and Libya are part of the continental whole. But for the State Department, northern Africa is part of the Middle Eastern Bureau, while the Africa Bureau is responsible for sub-Saharan states. It’s time for our strange bureaucratic bifurcations to end. Clearer strategic thinking, an improved ability to seize opportunities when shared interests present themselves, and more cohesive and achievable set of diplomatic and development priorities that complement counter-terrorism strategies should be within the grasp of the United States. Whatever happens next in Algeria, its effects will not stop at the southern border. Re-organizing ourselves to see Africa as it is seems a reasonable price to pay for policy that squares with reality.
  • Algeria
    An Algerian Arab Spring?
    Is the Arab Spring back, as some protesters, activists, and analysts have declared? The uninspiring answer is a qualified maybe.