Are Sudanese Arms Reaching Libyan Islamists through Kufra Oasis?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

Once again, Khartoum has been accused of supplying arms and transport to Islamist militias in the ongoing struggle between rival Libyan pro-Islamist and pro-secular governments based in Tripoli and Tobruck respectively. The latest accusations by a spokesman for the Libyan army claim that Sudan sent a convoy of 70 trucks of ammunition and 60 SUVs carrying Misratan Islamist fighters through Darfur and across Libya’s southern border to take the strategic south-east Libyan desert community of Kufra  (Asharq al-Awsat, March 7, 2015). However, Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman Colonel al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad insisted that foreign militants had no presence in Darfur while Egyptian military intelligence said it had no information regarding the passage of such a large convoy close to the border it shares with Libya and Sudan (Sudan Tribune, March 7, 2015; SUNA, March 7, 2015).

Kufra Oasis 1Kufra, the pre-colonial headquarters of the Libyan Sanusiya Order that led resistance to Italian, French and British imperialists, consists of a 50km by 20km basin containing a town and a half dozen oases. Sand seas on both sides of the basin force all traffic coming north from Sudan to pass through the region, giving it strategic importance. Kufra is inhabited mainly by local Tubu tribesmen and their rivals, the Zuwaya (or Zwai) Arabs that seized the region from the Teda Tubu in 1840. The two communities have clashed repeatedly since the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, requiring deployments of northern government-allied militias to restore order. In May 2014, Tubu leaders denied bringing Sudanese Tubu mercenaries north via the route to Kufra to help establish an ethnic-Tubu state in south-east Libya (al-Jazeera, May 9 2014).

Sudanese authorities have a special dislike of the new commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), General Khalifa Haftar, who is regarded in Khartoum as an agent of American influence in Libya due to his long-standing ties to the CIA and as an enemy of the Islamist movement due to his close relationship with Egyptian president Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi, whose hard-line on the Egyptian Brotherhood has led to the loss of hundreds of lives. Haftar has likewise accused Sudan (along with Chad and Egypt) of infiltrating armed Islamists into Libya and has expressed his dislike of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (Washington Post, May 21, 2014).

Kufra Oasis 2Jabal Uwaynat: Where Three Borders Meet

LNA officials have made it clear they regard they regard the Sudanese regime as one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and thus ready to aid the Muslim Brotherhood elements based in Benghazi (the Sudanese regime is in many ways a collaborative effort between the Sudanese military and various Islamist factions, including some former and current members of Sudan’s independent branch of the Brotherhood, popularly known in Sudan as the Ikhwan [brothers]). In response, Khartoum has emphasized the indigenous nature of its own Islamist movement while distancing the regime from the Egyptian Brotherhood and its Gulf-state counterparts. The Haftar-aligned commander of the Libyan Air Force, Brigadier General Saqr Jeroshi, is a major proponent of the Sudanese arms to Libyan Islamists scenario, describing it as a “hellish” scheme overseen by Ahmed al-Zaway, a Libyan Muslim Brother with alleged tribal links in the Sudan (Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014).

In June 2014, Khartoum declined to comment on reports the Sudanese capital had been visited by veteran jihadist Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the Tripoli-based leader of the Libyan al-Watan Party. These reports were soon followed by accusations from Haftar’s LNA that Sudan was using its air force to deliver Qatari arms to Belhaj’s fighters (Youm al-Sabaa [Cairo], June 6; Sudan Tribune, June 6, 2014).

Libyan authorities were reported to have seized a Sudanese military plane carrying ammunition during a refuelling stop in Kufra on the way to Tripoli’s Matiga Airport in September 2014, a story that originated with a Haftar-supported Libyan satellite TV channel and soon gained currency in government quarters, with LNA spokesmen going on to accuse Khartoum violating Libya’s “national sovereignty” by flying military supplies to “terrorist groups” (al-Jazeeea, September 8, 2014). Sudan claimed the incident was a “misunderstanding,” saying that the plane had only carried equipment needed by the joint Libyan-Sudanese border force tasked with tackling cross-border smuggling and human trafficking. This explanation proved unacceptable and an international spat followed, with Sudan demanding an apology and the Libyan government reportedly expelling the Sudanese military attaché (Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014).

However, Khartoum pointed out that no communications were received regarding this expulsion and noted that the attaché was in Khartoum at the time and had since returned to Tripoli. The Sudanese government further produced documentation and a recording of the plane’s radio exchange with the tower at Kufra Airport showing that the end destination of the flight was Kufra, not Tripoli. The story received a final blow when Lieutenant Sulayman Hamid Hassan, the Libyan commander of the joint Libyan-Sudanese border force, confirmed sending a request to Khartoum for “ammunition, arms, an ambulance, a water tanker and fuel” for the force and stated that the plane’s cargo had been unloaded in Kufra in the full view of local officials and national security personnel. These observations were confirmed by a letter from the Libyan Minister of Defence (Sudan Vision, September 28, 2014; Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014). The joint border patrols were established by an August 9, 2012 bilateral protocol and play an important role in intercepting human-smuggling operations despite underfunding and political chaos in Libya.

After Qaddafi’s Libya used the Kufra to Darfur route to supply anti-Khartoum rebels of the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement (which nearly toppled the regime in 2006), Khartoum is wary of militants of any stripe using the traditional desert route to infiltrate the Sudan or supply Darfur-based insurgents. In the midst of Libya’s anti-Qaddafi rebellion, a Sudanese column was reported to have crossed into Libya to briefly seize Kufra and its nearby military base to secure its northern border (Telegraph, July 1, 2011).

The route passing from Sudan into Kufra has a history as an arms conduit, being used in World War One in largely unsuccessful attempts to supply the Sultan of Darfur in his battle against the British-led Egyptian Army, and again in World War Two, when the route was heavily used by the British-led Sudan Defence Force (SDF) to supply the Free French garrison in Kufra after the French combined with the British Long-Range Desert Group (LRDG) to expel the Italian garrison in 1941. [1] Besides commercial traffic, the route is now most commonly used by smugglers and human-traffickers shipping refugees to the Libyan coast for onward transport to Europe. In the meantime, while unverified reports abound of Sudanese arms shipments to Libya’s Islamists, most of these claims appear to originate with Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, no friends of the Bashir regime in Khartoum.


  1. For SDF activities on the route in WWII, see “The Kufra Convoys,”

Designed to Fail: The Congolese Army’s Sham Offensive against FDLR Rebels

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

 Despite positive reports from the Ministry of Defence, the Congolese Army’s offensive against Hutu rebels of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is yielding little in the way of tangible results.

FDLR 1FARDC Tank on Operations in the Eastern Congo

Operation Sokolo II was launched in South Kivu province on February 24, 2015, with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) deploying troops into the highlands of South Kivu near Uvira. Further deployments were made in North Kivu two days later. FARDC forces carrying out the offensive consist of three regiments with a total strength of approximately 7500 men. So far, the campaign has resulted in the death of only 13 FDLR insurgents, while a recent FDLR ambush in North Kivu killed ten Congolese soldiers, including two colonels (Reuters, April 8, 2015).

FARDC’s command has reported the capture of several dozen villages, but in many places in North Kivu there is no apparent movement by the Congolese army and unit commanders in the region have not received orders to engage the rebels (Reuters, March 22, 2015). Despite inflicting a small number of casualties on FDLR personnel, all indications suggest that most of the movement has melted into the region’s dense forests to outwait the offensive, knowing that FARDC is incapable of a prolonged field operation and has failed to arrange for sufficient numbers of troops to occupy those towns taken from the FDLR. Already there are reports that FARDC is forced to withdraw to larger centers at night, leaving FDLR the freedom to resupply themselves by night and remind locals of where true power lies in the region (Reuters, March 22, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II was intended to be a joint effort between FARDC and better equipped UN peacekeepers operating in the Congo, but the DRC government’s insistence that two Congolese generals suspected of various war crimes be included in the operation’s command structure led to a UN decision to withdraw from the offensive.


The FDLR was formed in September 2000 from the remains of earlier Hutu militant movements, including the Interahamwe organization responsible for the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. By this point, twenty years later, few members of the FDLR outside the leadership played any role in the Rwandan genocide. As of December 2009, Major General Sylvestre Mudacumara was the FDLR’s overall military commander. Mudacumara, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, has a rival within the leadership in Victor Byiringiro, who has a greater interest in a political resolution with Rwanda (African Arguments, March 2, 2015).

Based in North Kivu, the FDLR cannot easily be brought to battle – it typically chooses a time and place of its own, prefers guerrilla-style strikes to conventional tactics and is highly integrated with the local population. Congolese Chief of General Staff of the Army, General Didier Etumba, estimates the FDLR’s strength as consisting of a maximum of 1400 fighters (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], January 29, 2015).  A recent report from the Enough Project summed up the strategy used by the FDLR:

The FDLR’s current strategy is consistent with its long-time pattern of responding to military pressure. In this pattern, the group promises to disarm and reiterates its political aspirations for recognition as a Rwandan opposition group. The FDLR then uses any reprieve to regroup by building military alliances and increasing economic activity and recruitment. [1]

The FDLR has been relatively inactive in the last year, though keeping a low profile might be part of an effort to avoid the fate of the rebel M-23 organization (a.k.a. the Revolutionary Army of the Congo), which was eliminated by joint FARDC-MONUSCO operation in November 2013. Under an agreement supervised by regional organizations (including the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and the Community of States of Southern Africa), the FDLR had pledged to conduct a voluntary demobilization and disarmament by January 2, 2015, but the small number of old and sick men who surrendered and the insignificant number of weapons that came with them was judged insufficient to mark compliance, thus opening the way for offensive operations against the remainder of the movement.

FDLR 2The Kivu region is rich in gold and minerals used in consumer electronics such as wolframite, coltan and cassiterite, though the 2012 implementation of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act has made it more difficult for rebel groups to profit from the sale of the last three minerals (gold is nearly untraceable and finds ready buyers everywhere) (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014).  However, like al-Shabaab in Somalia, the FDLR has turned to the environmentally harmful but lucrative charcoal trade as its greatest source of financing.

In the midst of the offensive, Major Zitunga Seraphin, the FDLR’s spokesman for international affairs, told a gathering of journalists that his movement has several demands for the FDLR’s peaceful return to Rwanda. These included justice for all Rwandan citizens and a willingness by the international community to look beyond the crimes of the Hutu to recognize those crimes allegedly committed by Rwanda’s ruling party, the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) (La Rédaction [Kinshasha], March 6, 2015).


On March 26, the UN Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to March 31, 2016. The mission began its work in the DRC in 1999.

India is the largest contributor of the 30 nations that have sent troops to the 20,000 man MONUSCO force; other leading contributors include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania and Uruguay.  Indian troops have been accused of abuses towards the civilian population as well as conducting illicit commercial exchanges with the FDLR. MONUSCO’s most capable component is its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), formed by 3,000 elite troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. It is likely that the FIB’s impending deployment against the FDLR prompted that group’s sham surrender prior to the January 2, 2015 deadline as a means of buying time or discouraging an offensive by UN units. MONUSCO forces in the Congo come under the military command of Brazilian General Carlos Alberto dos Santo Cruz.

UN support for a successful operation is indispensable to the logistics and transport-challenged FARDC forces, as is MONUSCO’s ability to provide surveillance from drones and tactical support from South African Rooivalk attack helicopters. Without such support, even unilateral successes by FARDC will ultimately prove unsustainable in the medium to long-term. The Congolese government has suggested that MONUSCO can run its own operation against the FDLR if it wishes.


The Congolese Army consists of 14 brigades of fighters from various pro and anti-government factions that were integrated into the regular army after undoing a process known as brassage (“mixing”).

As in many African countries, the DRC’s regular forces are ill-paid and poorly supplied, with available resources devoted mainly to the Republican Guard (personally loyal to the president) to deter efforts at mounting a military coup d’état. Indiscipline and poor maintenance of arms and equipment are among FARDC’s weaknesses. Logistics is an especially weak component of the FARDC, so the more efficient logistical services of the UN mission will be well missed as the Congolese troops move further into the contested regions of North and South Kivu.

There are many FARDC officers for whom the elimination of the FDLR would mark the end of a profitable collaboration based on poaching, ivory, timber, cannabis (chanvre) and the illegal extraction of gold and other minerals from the Kivu region. Arms and intelligence have in turn flowed from FARDC to the Hutu rebels. According to a MONUSCO report to UN headquarters in New York, the FDLR makes over $70 million annually by doing business with FARDC commanders and implementing illegal taxation. According to the report, the wives of senior FARDC officers acted as trading agents, while their husbands handled the transport of goods in and out of the region (News of Rwanda [Kigali], August 28, 2014; Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014). It should be noted that the contacts that ultimately led to such collaboration were forged when the weak Congolese Army was compelled to seek allies in the border region in the face of repeated Rwandan incursions

Collaboration with the FDLR and other rebel movements in the Kivu region goes to the highest ranks of the Congolese Army. Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba (a.k.a. Tango-Four) recently returned to duty after serving a two-year suspension that followed charges he was selling arms to militant groups in the eastern DRC (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], August 6, 2014). General Amisi’s rehabilitation has taken place despite further charges that he oversaw the Kinsangani massacre of 2002 and later withdrew a superior FARDC force from the eastern city of Goma in November 2012, allowing the much smaller rebel M-23 movement to take the strategic city without a fight. [2]

Much of the military’s poor performance in northeast Congo to date has been due to the failure of officials in Kinshasha to see that the troops are paid on a regular basis. In 2009, the Rwandan military cooperated with FARDC in an offensive targeting the FDLR inside the Congo. Operation Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”) was judged a partial success, but left 900,000 people displaced and 1,000 dead. According to Zeno Mutimara, the chairman of the Rwandan Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, MONUSCO has done nothing since it arrived in the DRC. Mutimara suggested regional military cooperation (as in 2009) would produce better results than reliance on international peacekeepers: “Umoja Wetu is better than the idea that Monusco will do anything. The biggest threat of the FDLR is the spread of genocide ideology; we have to deal with that, we should take responsibility for our own issues” (New Times [Kigali], March 28, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II

Regarding the contentious participation of Congolese Generals Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall in the current operation, a UN spokesman maintained “the clear point is that in accordance with our human rights due diligence policy, we cannot extend the support if we believe that support will contribute to a course of action in which human rights will be violated” (Inner City Press, March 20, 2015). Nonetheless, despite allegations of war crimes, the two generals were given exemptions to the policy during earlier operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). DRC officials maintain that they are not aware of human rights violations by the two generals and have not received documentation of such violations from the UN, even though the UN insists the exemptions could not be renewed due to the failure of Congolese authorities to investigate the allegations (, February 24, 2015; Reuters, March 26, 2015). The allegations include crimes such as rape and summary executions. After the UN withdrew its support for the operation, DRC government spokesmen maintained that it had only chosen its best officers to lead the operation against the FDLR (BBC, March 11, 2015). DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende recently characterized the UN’s decision to withhold support as an “attempt to transform our country into a colony” (VOA, March 30, 2015).

Kinshasha’s attitude on the matter suggests a provocative intent; the Kabila government is seeking a cut of 6,000 troops from the 20,000 man force, effective immediately, followed by a complete withdrawal in the near future, possibly before Kabila seeks a third (and so far unconstitutional) presidential term in elections scheduled for November 2016. The UN Security Council responded on March 26 by agreeing to cut 2,000 troops from the force while renewing MONUSCO’s mandate to March 2016. Despite the lackluster performance of FARDC, the DRC’s Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda insists that his nation is ready to take “full responsibility for its own security” (AFP, March 26, 2015).

While the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government appears determined to eliminate the threat from unreformed genocidaires, the presence of the FDLR and similar Hutu formations across the border justifies the ongoing political domination of Rwanda by its Tutsi minority (15% of the population) and the government’s use of anti-genocide laws to suppress dissent. Maintaining the status quo also prevents or at least postpones any power-sharing initiatives designed to re-integrate the Hutu refugee community living in the DRC. The continued existence of internal enemies like the FDLR provides Kinshasha a useful excuse for its mismanagement of the economy and the evaporation of state revenues by a deeply corrupt regime, though it also invites occasional sovereignty-threatening incursions by foreign militaries, especially that of Rwanda. In the meantime, Rwanda’s justice system has been aggressively pursuing prosecutions against dozens of individuals accused of facilitating the importation of arms into Rwanda for use by the FDLR, with sentences ranging from 10 years to life (Reuters, March 13, 2015).

FDLR rebels were spotted moving through South Kivu’s Itombwe forest on March 16, 2015 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], March 17, 2015). Elsewhere, FARDC has reported seizing a FDLR base in Virunga National Park (Medafricatimes, March 10), an environmentally important region of 7800 square kilometers that has suffered greatly from becoming a refuge for all manner of regional militant groups. Large swathes of the park’s forest disappear every day as militants turn wood to charcoal for sale in nearby markets.

The light resistance encountered by FARDC, its own minimal casualties, the relatively low number of civilians displaced by the current operation and FARDC’s apparent inability to draw the enemy to battle or eliminate or capture any of its command structure suggests that Operation Sokola II may be little more than a politically inspired exercise designed to demonstrate the DRC’s ability to mount a counter-insurgency operation on its own and thus encourage greater and faster drawdowns of MONUSCO personnel. The lack of resistance may indicate that the FDLR understands the operation’s sham nature, and thus merely has to wait it out before re-assuming control of the region and resuming the commercial operations that support it (likely including those carried out in cooperation with FARDC). Unfortunately, the reoccupation of villages now in the hand of FARDC will prove to be a disaster for their residents, who will inevitably be accused of cooperation with government forces regardless of their innocence.


Without UN support, there is a certain inevitability regarding the ultimate failure of FARDC’s campaign against deeply-rooted Hutu militants, though there are a number of possible scenarios:

  • The FDLR may be counted upon to do their best to avoid battle at this time. Kinshasha’s expectations of an early and complete withdrawal of UN forces works in the FDLR’s favor and would significantly reduce the military threat to the movement, which has settled somewhat comfortably in the North and South Kivu regions. Remaining in Kivu is a positive alternative to possible repercussions if members of the movement are expelled to Rwanda.
  • Despite best intentions on the part of both FARDC and the FDLR, there is always a significant danger of escalation whenever two bodies of undisciplined and heavily armed troops are operating in close proximity. Should Sokola II turn into a real battle with units of the FDLR or any of the other militant groups operating in the same region, there is the very real possibility of FARDC being embarrassed in the field through loss of ground and/or heavy casualties. If FARDC commanders conclude such losses are the result of insufficient support from the Kabila government, they might turn against Kabila, or at the very least oppose his future presidential aspirations.
  • While the UN has said it will remain in the DRC until successful operations have lowered the threat level to civilian populations, there may be those in the UN and its financial backers that will welcome the apparent snub from Kinshasha as proof there is little point in continuing to maintain the expensive peacekeeping mission in the Congo, currently the world’s largest.


  1. “How to Dismantle a Deadly Militia: Seven non-military tactics to help end the FDLR threat in the Congo,” The Enough Project, November 2014,
  2. Jean-Jacques Wondo Omanyundu: “Who’s who: Le Général Amisi ‘Tango Four,’ le boucher de l’Est du Congo,” Desc-Wondo, October 3, 2014,


Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitun Movement Introduces Urban Terrorist Tactics to Raise Ethnic Tensions in Mali

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

A brutal March 7 attack on night-club goers in the heart of Mali’s national capital of Bamako using machine-guns and grenades announced the arrival of the bitter fight for control of northern Mali in a region traditionally untouched by the ongoing struggle. Eight people were wounded in the attack and five killed, including three Malians, one Belgian and one French citizen.

La Terrasse night-club, the scene of the attack, is located in the midst of the Hippodrome district of central Bamako, a hub for expatriates and westernized Malian youth who congregate in the districts’ many cafés, restaurants and nightclubs, many of them Lebanese-owned. Like many of its neighbors, La Terrasse is a known gathering place for Malian prostitutes and Western expatriates.

Credit for the attack was claimed by terrorist group al-Murabitun in a 90 second Arabic language audiotape sent to Mauritanian newspaper al-Akhbar: “We claim the last operation in Bamako led by the valiant fighters of al-Murabitoun to retaliate against the miscreant West that insulted and mocked our Prophet and [for the death of] our brother, Ahmed al-Tilemsi” (al-Akhbar [Nouakchott], March 7, 2015). Al-Tilemsi was killed by French Special Forces in the Gao region of northern Mali on December 11, 2014. Ten other jihadists were killed in the raid and three captured.

Al-Murabitun (The Sentinels) was formed in August 2013 through a merger of the Movement for Unity and Justice in West Africa (MUJWA) and veteran terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Katibat al-Mulathameen (“Veiled Brigade”; also operating under the name al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam  – “Those who Signed in Blood Brigade”). Al-Murabitun is now led by its founder, Mokhtar Belmokhtar (a.k.a. Khalid Abu al-Abbas). Though Belmokhtar was believed to be the power behind the new group from the beginning, its first official leader was Abu Bakr al-Masri, a veteran Egyptian militant who was killed by French Special Forces in April 2014.

A week after the attack, Malian Special Forces announced they had killed a grenade-throwing accomplice in the attack during a two-hour gun-battle that began during a raid on a residence in Magnambougou, a crowded working-class area of Bamako. A large cache of arms and ammunition was also seized. Identity cards on the body identified the “light-skinned” suspect as Mohamed Tanirou Cissé, a native of Bourem in the Gao region of northern Mali (Nouvelle République, March 13, 2015; AFP, March 13, 2015). Three other suspects have been identified and arrested, including a transport agent working the Gao to Bamako line who arranged the transport of the attackers to Bamako, and a pair of Songhai shop-keeping brothers from Bourem who are alleged to have provided the terrorists accommodation in the capital (L’Essor [Bamako], March 20, 2015).  The principal assailant remains missing.

 Belmokhtar MaliAhmed al-Tilemsi

The individual named in the Murabitun statement was Ahmed al-Tilemsi (a.k.a. Abd al-Rahman Ould Amar), a Lamhar Arab from the Gao region with a reputation as a businessman who was not averse to drug-trafficking. Before the 2012 rebellion al-Tilemsi may have been associated with Colonel Abd al-Rahman Ould Meydou’s pro-government Arab militia, but had clearly sided with MUJWA by the time the radical Islamist movement occupied Gao. Though some have suggested his allegiance may have had more to do with protecting his business interests than with ideology, other sources claim he was a dedicated jihadist who held the position of MUJWA military chief in the Gao region. Most observers agree that al-Tilemsi became known as a major financier for MUJWA (RFI, December 11, 2014; Jeune Afrique, July 27, 2012).

Al-Tilemsi’s name was frequently connected to northern Mali’s lucrative kidnapping business, conducted primarily by Islamist extremists who often used local Arab businessmen as go-betweens in arranging the payment of ransoms (RFI, December 11, 2014).

All-Murabitun’s message also claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt against the nation’s highest-ranking Arab soldier “for his involvement in the war against the mujahidin” (al-Akhbar [Nouakchott], March 7, 2015).

MeydouGeneral Mohamed Abd al-Rahman Ould Meydou

In the course of the January 26 assassination attempt on General Mohamed Abd al-Rahman Ould Meydou outside his home in Bamako’s city center, the general encountered two turbaned men on a motorcycle outside his home. The assailants opened fire, wounding him in the head, hand and leg before leaving him for dead (L’Indépendant [Bamako], January 28, 2015).  Ould Meydou was reported to have received threats days before the attack warning him to change his loyalties or he would be shot (L’Indépendant [Bamako], January 28, 2015).

Along with his Tuareg counterpart, General al-Hajj ag Gamou, Meydou played a vital role in the fighting of 2008’s Operationn Djiguitougou, which used Tuareg and Arab militias to drive Tuareg rebels under the command of the late Ibrahim ag Bahanga out of northern Mali. Colonels during the latest northern rebellion, both men were raised to the rank of Brigadier General in late 2013 in recognition of their vital contributions in restoring government authority in northern Mali. The men are, respectively, the highest-ranking Arab and Tuareg officers in the Malian Army.

Meydou was the target of an ambush directed at eliminating his leadership while travelling between Kidal and the northern garrison town of Aguel Hoc in 2012 but succeeded in escaping with his life. Ag Gamou escaped similar attempts by pretending to join the Islamist insurgents before passing into neighboring Niger with his roughly 400 man force intact. From there, he was able to return to the north in January 2013 alongside a column of Nigerien, Chadian and French forces.

During the operation to retake northern Mali from the Islamist coalition, Ould Meydou led a largely Bérabiche Arab Timbuktu-based militia that co-operated with Malian regular forces in Gao led by Colonel Didier Dacko. Now a Brigadier, Dacko is known as a capable and respected officer who opposes the reintegration of rebels into the regular army as part of any negotiated settlement. The strategy has failed several times, with some officers such as Colonel Hassan ag Fagaga (the current MNLA military chief) shuttling back and forth between the Army and rebel formations.


  • The attack on La Terrasse and the attempted assassination of General Ould Meydou mark the introduction of urban terrorism to Bamako, which has escaped such activity during all the rebellions and disturbances since independence. Like Somalia’s al-Shabaab, al-Murabitun’s ability to operate in northern Mali is now somewhat restricted by a major international military presence. Following al-Shabaab’s lead, al-Murabitun appears to be shifting to attacks against soft targets in the national capital.
  • Though Bamako is roughly 450 kilometers from the nearest point in northern Mali, the group may be able to draw on the capital’s small population of Arabs and Tuareg for recruits, though the size of this population is somewhat diminished since riots targeted light-skinned northerners in Bamako in 2012. In the Terrasse bombing, security reports indicate the operation was the work of a mixed cell of northerners and northern-origin residents of Bamako.
  • There is a significant danger that further incidents of urban terrorism may provoke even more serious revenge attacks against innocent northerners living in the capital. Besides the larger objectives of forcing a withdrawal of international (especially French) forces and a return to Islamist rule in the north, al-Murabitun’s latest strikes are destined to increase ethnic tensions within Mali that could derail the ever precarious peace talks ongoing in Algiers.

UNAMID to Shut Down Peacekeeping Operations in Darfur as Khartoum Expands Oil Exploration: What Now?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

unamid 1With plans to boost production in its hard-pressed oil sector, Sudan is looking to establish full control over northern Darfur, where new exploration and drilling projects are planned to help replace the oil production lost in the 2010 separation of oil-rich South Sudan, which represented nearly 75% of Sudan’s pre-separation output. There are hopes for new development in northern Darfur’s Block 12A concession, worked by Saudi Arabia’s al-Qahtani company, and Block 14, where South Africa’s PetroSA has engaged in exploration work in the desolate regions near Sudan’s northern borders with Libya and Egypt (Middle East Eye, March 20, 2015). The Sudanese Ministry of Oil also expects to bring new wells in eastern Darfur’s Abu Karinka region into production later this year (Radio Dabanga, February 17, 2015). As continued rebel activity in Darfur threatens new government revenue streams, Khartoum is eager to consolidate full control over the unsettled region and eliminate international meddling in what the regime considers an internal matter. To this end, Khartoum is seeking the withdrawal of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a large, expensive and relatively ineffectual peacekeeping mission that the regime nonetheless regards as an irritant in its efforts to reshape Darfur’s ethnic composition.

A working group of Sudanese, United Nations and African Union representatives met on March 17 to begin drawing up a strategy for UNAMID’s eventual withdrawal from Darfur. [1]The group, acting under pressure from Khartoum for a speedy withdrawal, will present a report to the UN Security Council by the end of May.

UNAMID, self-described as a “joint hybrid” operation involving UN and African Union forces, conducts its affairs under a UN Charter Chapter VII mandate which allows for armed measures to protect civilians as well as “such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” [2]

Impetus for the withdrawal was provided by a late 2014 dispute between Khartoum and UNAMID over the latter’s demands for a transparent investigation into reports of mass-rape by Sudanese security forces in the town of Tabit. The UN claimed its own initial investigation was hampered by a massive military and police presence in the town focused on intimidating witnesses. In yet another display of the acrobatic approach to logic his regime has become famous for, President Omar Bashir claimed that the mass rapes proved “UNAMID has failed to protect civilians and [has] instead become protector to the rebels” (Sudan Tribune, December 1, 2014).  By February, Khartoum was demanding the complete withdrawal of UNAMID (Sudan Tribune, February 19, 2015).

After the Congo-based MONUSCO (see Congo article in this issue), UNAMID is the world’s second largest peacekeeping force with an annual budget in excess of $1.3 billion. The UN is not against at least making the forcer leaner and more effective – a recent internal review of UNAMID activities concluded that many of the units serving in the peacekeeping force were incompetent and should be sent home (Reuters, March 11, 2015).

The Rebellion Twelve Years On

Though the pace is slower, the rebellion in Darfur against the central government continues. The Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) claimed to have taken the SAF garrison at Rokoro in central Darfur on March 13, seizing large quantities of arms and war materiel after killing 58 militiamen and SAF personnel (Radio Dabanga, March 13, 2015). While raids of this type continue, the leadership of an ever-proliferating number of new rebel movements continue to flirt with the regime, accepting integration into government security forces at one moment, and deserting to resume rebellion in the next. Many of these acronym movements seek nothing more than favorable concessions and/or salaries from the central government in exchange for laying down arms. A long string of government settlements with these minor movements has done little to restore security in Darfur so long as the major non-signatory movements (such as the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement [JEM], the Sudan Liberation Army- Minni Minawi [SLA-MM – largely Zaghawa] and the SLA-AW [largely Fur]) cannot be enticed to reach an agreement with the regime in Khartoum, which is deeply distrusted by the major movements.

Three reports presented to the UN Security Council on March 18 by Hervé Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, suggested that the security situation in Darfur is actually deteriorating due to “the ongoing Government of Sudan and the Rapid Support Forces’ military offensive.” [3]  Noting that government forces had weakened the rebel formations in Darfur, Ladsous also noted that this success had come at the cost of a rate of displacement that was now higher than at any previous time since the rebellion began in 2003 (Radio Dabanga, March 18, 2015). Meanwhile, security issues remain unaddressed, with government troops and militiamen continuing to commit gang-rapes of “non-Arab” women and girls across Darfur. While senior officers routinely maintain they are searching for the culprits, these searches apparently do not extend to government barracks.

An Epidemic of Tribal Warfare

Beyond the ongoing conflict between various rebel movements and government troops and/or allied militias (now in its 12th year), Darfur now finds itself caught up in a plague of tribal conflicts, often encouraged by local and central government authorities.

Arab Rizeigat and Fellata clashed in southern Darfur last year after Rizeigat tribesmen prevented Fellata (the Kanuri term by which members of the Fulani/Peul ethnic group are known in Darfur) livestock traders from crossing their lands (Radio Dabanga, October 1, 2014).

In recent weeks, dozens have been killed or wounded in clashes between the Fellata and the Salamat, a nomadic group claiming Arab heritage, many of whom were encouraged by Khartoum to migrate into Darfur from their homes in Chad and northeast Niger to occupy lands from which Black Africans had been expelled by the paramilitary Janjawid and elements of the Sudanese Army. As is often the case, the spark behind the conflict was relatively trivial (the theft of some cows, not an unknown occurrence in Darfur), but the proliferation of modern firearms in the highly racialized atmosphere promoted by the regime of President Omar al-Bashir now tends to turn every minor conflict into a series of massacres and counter-massacres. Matters are complicated by a government-encouraged turn away from elders’ councils and other traditional and moderating forms of influence in the so-called “Arab” tribes of Darfur in favor of younger leaders eager to nourish more direct ties to Khartoum in return for arms, cash and the influence these commodities wield in their communities.

On March 26, the Darfur Bar Association summed up the dangers of this policy in a statement calling on authorities to cease the distribution of arms and its politicization of the tribal system:

By arming certain tribesmen, distributing military uniforms and four-wheel drive vehicles among them, and letting them assault, rob, and terrorize innocent civilians with impunity, the regime affirms that it has withdrawn its responsibility, and pushes the people to take up arms themselves in response (Radio Dabanga, March 26, 2015).

A recent conflict in East Darfur between the Ma’alia and the Rizeigat (both “Arab” groups – it is often difficult to visually distinguish between Darfur “Arabs” and “Black Africans”) that killed over 500 people and displaced another 55,0000 brought criticism of the inability of the tribes’ traditional leadership to end the conflict from President Bashir (Sudan Tribune, March 19, 2014), who conveniently overlooked his own government’s role in undermining the influence of the region’s traditional leaders. There are also serious clashes at the northern Darfur goldmines of Jabal Amir between the Rizeigat and the Arab Bani Hussein. Nearly 800 people were killed at the mines in early 2013 alone.

Escalating attacks by the “Arab” Ziyadiya against the indigenous Black African Berti in March began to look more like an attempt to eliminate the Berti rather than merely punish them for an alleged breach of a truce between the two groups earlier this year. Local and largely Ziyadiya units of the paramilitary Border Guards and the Central Reserve Force (popularly known as “Abu Tira”) have joined Ziyadiya tribesmen in large-scale attacks on Berti in the Melllit region, north of the Darfur capital of al-Fashir. A string of assaults by gunmen and paramilitary forces equipped with Russian-made 108mm DShK “Dushka machine guns and mortars culminated with the massacre of over 40 civilians in villages near Mellit on March 28 (Radio Dabanga, March 22, 2015; March 29, 2015). The raids, which killed over 80 Berti in March alone, have been accompanied by widespread looting, rustling and destruction of property.

unamid 2Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir

North Darfur governor Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir, a Berti member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has been accused by his rivals of using his office to strengthen the position of his own tribe and forming a Berti militia (Sudan Tribune, September 17, 2013).

Former Janjawid leader and arch-rival to Kibir, Shaykh Musa Hilal (an Umjallul/ Mahamid Arab and a member of parliament for the ruling National Congress Party [NCP – al-Mu’tamar al-Watani]), incited an Arab militia in-training with a 2013 speech describing the Berti as led by “a bastard slave” (i.e. Governor Kibir) and knowing “only how to cook watermelons” (Sudan Tribune, September 15, 2013). Hilal now poses as an opponent of the “corrupt regime” in Khartoum as the leader of al-Sahwa [Awakening] Revolutionary Council, which declared in late February that it would boycott this month’s elections (Radio Dabanga, January 13, 2015; February 25, 2015). It appears, however, that Musa Hilal’s main differences are with Governor Kibir rather than al-Bashir, who has traditionally acted as Hilal’s sponsor and guardian.

Nonetheless, a March 17 statement from al-Sahwa condemned Khartoum’s tribal policy in Darfur: “The regime still indulges in reckless policies towards this crisis in the country as it still incites and scatters the seeds of discord among the Arab and non-Arab tribes in Darfur” (Sudan Vision, March 19, 2015). Al-Sahwa controls territory and communities in the western part of Northern Darfur, where it has set up its own administrations.

The regime has tried to downplay the eruption of tribal violence in Darfur as a “normal” condition. In mid-March, Hassan Hamid Hassan, the Sudanese deputy ambassador to the UN, told the UN Security Council that “tribal violence in Darfur is as old as Darfur itself. We cannot condition the withdrawal, the exit of the [UNAMID] mission, on these phenomena which are as ancient as Darfur itself” (Reuters, March 17, 2015).


Some 770 UNAMID staff were scheduled to be cut from the mission’s strength by the end of March 2015, as part of a restructuring prior to eventual withdrawal (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015). General elections in Sudan on April 13 are fully expected to return the ruling NCP to power, providing it a self-confirmed mandate to restore order and expand economic development, even if it comes at the expense of the 2.5 million Darfuris who remain displaced. While UNAMID does not have much in the way of accomplishments to justify the loss of over 200 peacekeepers since it began operations, it has nevertheless provided the international community with eyes and ears in turbulent Darfur. The racialization of communities once known for cooperative and generally harmonious relations by the Arab-supremacists within the NCP government cannot be quickly undone, and with the proliferation of all types of small-arms in the region, growing ethnic and tribal conflicts now threaten to supplant the multi-headed rebellion as Darfur’s greatest security threat. UNAMID may be characterized as a costly failure, but its absence will still be deeply felt by Darfur’s civilian population, much of which can expect further displacement through government “pacification” campaigns led by ill-disciplined paramilitaries.

The Divided Leadership of Northern Mali’s Arab Community: A Profile of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA)

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

MAA 1Despite their small numbers, northern Mali’s Arab population maintains a high degree of influence in the region’s social, religious and political life since their gradual arrival through the 17th to 19th centuries.

The Arab community of northern Mali is composed of three main groups:

  • The Bérabiche moved into northern Mali in the early 17th century and established an important commercial center at Timbuktu. Before the Islamist occupation of the north in 2012, some members of the tribe played an important role in guiding al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) smuggling convoys through the north. In some cases, AQIM leaders and fighters married into the Bérabiche.
  • The Kounta are part of a large confederation of religious clans found across West Africa. Claiming a common 15th century ancestor, their religious authority is tightly tied to their importance in the Qadariya Sufi order in West Africa. Once wealthy through commerce and the payment of tribute by lesser Arab groups, a changing social order has presented the group with new challenges. Some Kounta sought new revenues through engagement in narcotics smuggling, though this has damaged their religious status in the north. Kounta relations with the Tuareg are complicated, while struggles for control of northern Mali’s smuggling routes have brought the Kounta into conflict with the Bérabiche and Tilemsi Arabs.
  • The Tilemsi Arabs (a.k.a. Tangara) arrived in the Tilemsi Valley region of Gao from Mauritania in the 19th century in response to a call for aid from the Kounta, to which they were once subordinate. Their position close to the Algerian border allowed the group to profit sufficiently to allow them to stop paying tribute to the Kounta over a decade ago. However, their smuggling activities brought them into close contact with AQIM, the result being the growth of religious extremism in the community.

MAA 2Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati

The original Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA – Arab Movement of Azawad) was created in late 2012 as a reorganization of the short-lived Front de libération nationale de l’Azawad (FNLA). The movement was designed initially as an Arab self-defense group with an interest in autonomy but not independence for the north or the implementation of Shari’a in the region. Azawad is the local name for northern Mali.

Since then, however, the MAA has split into two factions – one in favor of greater autonomy within a united Mali, the other taking a harder line on independence for the north. The pro-Bamako faction of the MAA is led by Professor Ahmed Sidi Ould Mohamed and is largely based in the Gao region with a military base at Inafarak (near the Algerian border), while the dissident or separatist faction is led by Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati and suspected narco-traffickers Dina Ould Aya (or Daya) and Mohamed Ould Aweynat, amongst others. Both men are subject to international arrest warrants for their alleged roles in narco-trafficking (L’Indépendant  [Bamako], May 28, 2014). The military chief of the dissenting MAA is Colonel Hussein Ould al-Moctar “Goulam,” a defector from the Malian Army.  This faction is based in the Timbuktu region.

Both factions of the MAA include former members of the Islamist Movement for Unity and Justice in West Africa (MUJWA) that joined AQIM and Ansar al-Din in briefly ruling northern Mali after expelling government forces and defeating the rebel Mouvement National pour la liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA).  A pro-government militia, the Groupe Autodéfense Touareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA) helpfully claims that the former MUJWA fighters in the pro-Bamako MAA simply joined the Islamists to provide security for their community during the Islamist occupation (Le Monde, February 11, 2015). The mainstream MAA is dominated by members of the Lamhar clan, a group whose recent prosperity and large new homes in Gao are attributed to their prominent role in moving drug shipments through northern Mali. Some reports have characterized the split in the MAA as being directly related to a struggle for control of drug-trafficking routes through northern Mali (L’Informateur [Bamako], May 28, 2014).

With their intimate knowledge of the Malian Arab community and the lands in which they dwell, a loyalist Arab movement is a natural threat to the operations of jihadists in northern Mali.  It is not surprising, then, that Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitun organization issued a threat against the loyalist MAA and the independence-minded but officially secular and largely Tuareg MNLA on April 8, citing their alleged loyalty to the French (MaliActu.Info, April 8, 2015).

Yoro Ould Daha (a.k.a. Sid’Amar Ould Daha), one of the leaders of the pro-Bamako faction of the MAA, typifies the kind of political confusion and pliability that hinders the arrival of a negotiated settlement in the north and frustrates foreign supporters of Malian democracy. Ould Daha came to prominence as the MUJWA chief of security during the Islamist occupation of northern Mali, but now insists he and his movement are now seeking a unified nation with its capital in Bamako. Widely regarded as a major drug trafficker with a reputation for brutality gained during his time as security chief for MUJWA-occupied Gao, Ould Daha was arrested by French forces in Gao in July 2014 and turned over to Malian authorities, but was released only days later, though not before accusing the French military of supporting his enemies in the separatist MNLA (Le Témoin [Bamako], August 12, 2014; MaliWeb, August 2, 2014; RFI, September 8, 2014). The loyalist MAA’s chief of military staff, Colonel al-Oumarani Baba Ahmed Ould Ali, resigned from the movement in mid-March, citing internal reasons related to the loyalist alliance (L’Indicateur du Renouveau [Bamako], March 19, 2015).

At present, armed groups active in northern Mali include the following:

1/ Coordination des Mouvements et Front patriotique de résistance (CM-FPR, incorporating the largely Songhai Ganda Koy and Ganda Iso militias) On June 24, 2014, this coalition allied itself with GATIA and the loyalist faction of the MAA. The movement seeks self-determination for the north, but exists mainly to resist Tuareg domination of the north.

2/ Le Haut Conseil pour l’unité de l’Azawad (HCUA – Viewed as the voice of the Ifoghas Tuareg of Kidal, the HCUA includes many former members of the now dormant Ansar al-Din Islamist movement led by Iyad ag Ghali).

3/ Coalition pour le Peuple de l’Azawad (CPA – allied with Ganda Iso) The CPA was created from a split in the MNLA and seeks federalism rather than independence. Largely Tuareg, but claims membership from the Arab, Songhai and Peul/Fulani communities of the north.

4/ Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA – both pro and anti-Bamako factions use the same name despite the split). Both factions of the MAA include many former members of MUJWA.

5/ Mouvement National pour la liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA) A largely Tuareg movement seeking an independent northern Mali. The Kel Idnan and Taghat Mellit Tuareg are well represented in the movement.

6/ Mouvement Populaire pour le Salut de l’Azawad (MPSA) The Arab MPSA is the result of a split in the MAA, with MPSA dissidents claiming they wanted to remove themselves from the influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Anadolu Agency, August 31, 2014). The group seeks self-determination for the north rather than independence but does not appear to be very influential.

7/ Groupe Autodéfense Touareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA). This pro-government group is closely tied to the Malian Army and is led by General al-Hajj ag-Gamou. It consists largely of Imghad Tuareg but also includes a number of allied Arab fighters.


After Garissa: Kenya Revises Its Security Strategy to Counter al-Shabaab’s Shifting Tactics

Andrew McGregor

April 17, 2015

Al-Shabaab’s April 2 attack on Kenya’s Garissa University College that killed 147 non-Muslim students was the latest installment in al-Shabaab’s campaign to force Nairobi to order a withdrawal of the Kenyan Defense Force (KDF) from the Jubaland region of southern Somalia. So far, the Kenyan government has presented an uncoordinated response that has largely focused on Islamist militancy as a foreign problem that is being imported (along with hundreds of thousands of unwanted refugees) across Kenya’s porous border with neighboring Somalia.

KDF in SomaliaKDF Troops in Southern Somalia


The KDF moved into southern Somalia in 2011 as part of Operation Linda Nchi, designed to deter cross-border infiltration of radical Islamists, create a Kenyan-controlled buffer zone in southern Somalia and establish suitable conditions for the return of the massive Somali refugee population dwelling in Kenya’s largely ethnic-Somali North Eastern Province. KDF troops in Somalia joined the larger African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in February 2012.

In military terms, the KDF presence has exerted a slow but ultimately relentless pressure on Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement. The seizure of the port at Kuday Island (southern Juba region, south of Kismayo) by KDF and Somali National Army (SNA) forces during an amphibious operation on March 22 drove al-Shabaab from its last access point to the sea, dealing the organization a severe blow and leaving it effectively surrounded by hostile forces (Raxanreeb, March 22). Military pressure from AMISOM and financial pressures created by the gradual loss of access to every port prompted a strategic overhaul of the group’s activities. For al-Shabaab, direct confrontations with Somali security forces or the much stronger AMISOM deployment are out; a greater focus on terrorist tactics (including bombings, assassinations and assaults on soft targets by well-armed gunmen) is in. Expelling the KDF is a priority, and the movement is willing to exploit ethnic tensions in Kenya’s North Eastern Province to achieve this goal.

The region’s ethnic-Somali population (belonging largely to the powerful Ogadeni clan) was geographically divided in 1925, when Britain gave the northern half of the region (modern Jubaland) to Italy. The southern half of the region is now Kenya’s North Eastern Province. The division was massively unpopular with the region’s ethnic-Somalis, leading the British to close the region from 1926 to 1934. Dislike of the Kenyan government (dominated by the Kikuyu tribe) erupted into the Shifta War of 1963-1967. Dissatisfaction with the administration has been punctuated by sporadic political violence in the region ever since, the worst example being the 1984 Wagalla Massacre of thousands of ethnic-Somalis by Kenyan security forces. [1]

The Assault on Garissa College University

Kenya’s security forces may have relaxed prematurely after seizing Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s largest port, in 2012. While taking Kismayo fulfilled Nairobi’s objective of creating an autonomous buffer zone (“Jubaland”) between Kenya and the rest of Somalia, it only intensified al-Shabaab’s hatred of Kenya and its determination to retake Somali-inhabited areas of Kenya, even if it means the use of terrorist atrocities targeting Kenyan civilians. The border became no less permeable with the creation of a Kenya-reliant Jubaland administration, yet the Kenyan government continued to neglect border security in the North Eastern Province, where roads and other infrastructure are few and far between.

The attack at Garissa appears to have been well-planned—university administrators said two of the terrorists had posed as students while using a room on campus as a “command center,” complete with food and supplies that appeared to be intended for a long battle (Standard [Nairobi], April 10). Survivors described the attackers as speaking Swahili (Kenya’s main language) rather than Somali (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], April 4). Militants told at least one survivor of the attack: “Tell your President to withdraw KDF from Somalia and ensure that North Eastern [province] belongs to Muslims. Garissa must also be part of Somalia and not Kenya” (Standard [Nairobi], April 11).

While helicopters were made available to take the Interior Cabinet Secretary (who routinely assures Kenyans the government is keeping them safe) and the Inspector General of Police to Garissa, the elite counter-terrorist Recce company of the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) got stuck in traffic on their way to the airport, where they were transported to Garissa by fixed wing aircraft while their equipment travelled by road (Star [Nairobi], April 11). The aircraft that should have been available to transport the Recce unit was unavailable as it had been used that morning to fly private individuals to Mombasa and pick up the daughter-in-law of police air-wing chief Rogers Mbithi (Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 13; Star [Nairobi], April 15).

This suggests that Kenyan authorities have not absorbed the lessons of the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, particularly in regard to having transport available for its rapid response units. In the Westgate incident, Kenya’s elite 40 Rangers Strike Force arrived at the mall from their base at Gilgil (roughly 75 kilometers north of Nairobi) 12 hours after the attack began, and promptly engaged in a gunfight with members of the General Service Unit (GSU), a paramilitary wing of the National Police Service. Action against the terrorists still inside the mall was confused as many members of the police and military devoted themselves to looting the mall rather than rescuing hostages. In response to the resulting public outrage, the Kenyan military sacked and jailed two members of its elite 40 Rangers Strike Force and declared the matter finished (Standard [Nairobi], October 30, 2013).

KunoAlleged Attack Planner Mohamed Kuno

Though the Kenyan government continues to treat al-Shabaab as an external threat, there is evidence that the radical Islamist threat is an internal problem, albeit one inspired by al-Shabaab. The alleged planner of the attack, Mohamed Kuno (a.k.a. Mohamed Dulyadin; a.k.a. Gamadhere; a.k.a. Shaykh Mohamud), has strong connections to Kenya’s ethnic-Somali community. Kuno worked as a teacher and principal of a madrassa in Garissa from 1997 to 2000, where he is remembered for his religious radicalism before his departure for Somalia (Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 2). Once in Somalia, Kuno acted as a commander in some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu, and, for a time, even served in the al-Shabaab-allied Ras Kamboni Brigade under Shaykh Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe,” who ironically is now the Kenyan-backed “president” of Jubaland (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], April 4). The former teacher is the prime suspect in the massacre of 28 Kenyan Christians in Mandera County in November 2014 and the killing of a further 36 Christian quarry workers in Mandera in December 2014. At present, Kano is responsible for al-Shabaab operations in Jubaland and Kenya.

In the wake of the attack, opposition leaders continue to demand a KDF withdrawal from Somalia in order to concentrate on border security, suggesting that the United States try to persuade other nations without a common border with Somalia to replace the Kenyan troops (Standard [Nairobi], April 11).

A Failure of Intelligence?

In the border regions, there are few Kenyan intelligence officers from the local ethnic-Somali community, contributing to Kenya’s continued inability to secure its border with Somalia (Standard [Nairobi], April 12). In addition, Kenyan authorities appear to have ignored foreign intelligence reports passed to them:

  • Three weeks before the Garissa attack, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that Kenya was not acting on intelligence information regarding possible terrorist activity—only a day before the Garissa attack, President Kenyatta called British travel advisory warnings on Kenya an attempt “to intimidate us with these threats” (Standard [Nairobi], April 5).
  • Iran is reported to have supplied information on March 22 of pending attacks on Kenyan Christians in university areas of Garissa, Nairobi and Mombasa prior to the assault on the Garissa University, where Christians were singled out (Standard [Nairobi], April 12).
  • On March 27, Australia issued a warning of an impending terrorist attack in Nairobi (Reuters, March 28).
  • According to a student interviewed by Reuters, whose account was corroborated by northern Kenyan MPs, the administration of the Garissa Teacher’s College closed the school days before the attack, telling students that strangers had been spotted in the college and that a terrorist attack might be imminent. This action was not followed by the rest of the campus, which remained open. According to one MP, “Some of us have seen the intelligence reports, and I can assure you they were specific and actionable” (Reuters, April 3).

The Kenyan Response

The KDF’s immediate reaction to the Garissa massacre was to bomb al-Shabaab camps in Somalia, including Camp Shaykh Ismail, Camp Gondodwe, Camp Bardheere and what was described as a major camp in Gedo Region where some 800 militants were based. Though the KDF claimed each base was completely destroyed (unlikely considering that only ten aircraft were used and the cloudy conditions at the time), al-Shabaab made the equally unlikely claim that all the bombs had fallen harmlessly on farmland (Star [Nairobi], April 6).

Inside Kenya, critical assessments of Kenya’s response to terrorist threats posed by al-Shabaab and its Kenyan allies tend to be treated as unpatriotic outbursts that identify the holder of such sentiments as potential terrorist-sympathizers. Deputy President Ruto (the government’s point-man on the Garissa issue) recently demanded that some Kenyan leaders should stop “cheering” al-Shabaab attacks inside Kenya (Capital FM [Nairobi], April 12).

Beyond the military response, focus has concentrated on the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. The camp, the largest refugee center in Africa with between 350,000 to 500,000 Somali residents, was set up in 1991, and its population (mainly women and children) has grown every year despite claims from many Kenyan politicians that the facility harbors terrorists. Following the Garissa attack, Deputy President Ruto demanded that the UNHCR close Dadaab in three months’ time, or Kenya would relocate the refugees itself (BBC, April 12).

Recent remarks by former deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi (in which he was supported by several MPs) gave some indication of the political mood regarding the continued existence of the Dadaab camp and its alleged threat to Kenyans:

The camp accommodates Somalia terrorists who disguise themselves as refugees. They use the camp as a base to collect intelligent information about Kenyan institutions and relay back to their accomplices in Somalia… The refugees stay in the country, seek assistance from us, mingle with our people freely yet they gather information on how to lay a trap on us. They hide their true colors and plan on how to kill us. They need to move out immediately (Star [Nairobi], April 6).

Kenyan officials insist that KDF operations in southern Somalia have now created safe spaces suitable for the return of the refugees (BBC, April 11). However, a UNHCR spokesman cited a tripartite treaty with Kenya and Somalia specifying that any return by refugees to Somalia must be voluntary, adding rather bluntly that “moving that number of people [in an unsystematic fashion] will not be possible” (RFI, April 12).

Big Fences Make Good Neighbors?

While spectacular attacks such as that on Garissa University make international headlines, there is also a daily war of attrition going on in the border counties of northeastern Kenya. According to Kenyan anti-terrorism police, there has been a terrorist attack every ten days (135 in total) since the KDF deployment in Somalia began in 2011. Most of these attacks, killing over 500 people in total, occurred in Kenya’s North Eastern province. (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], April 10). Ali Roba, governor of Mandera County, said in March that up to 90 people had died from terrorist activity in Mandera in the previous seven months alone, adding that he himself had survived six assassination attempts (Standard [Nairobi], March 22).

Most of this activity is blamed by the authorities on the infiltration of al-Shabaab terrorists across the poorly defended border. Nairobi’s solution, despite Somali objections, is to build a massive wall of concrete and fencing along the border, separating the ethnic Somali residents of Kenya’s North Eastern Province from their fellow Ogadeni clansmen in Somalia’s Kenyan-occupied Jubaland State (Standard [Nairobi], March 22), The hastily-implemented “Somalia Border Control Project” will cost an estimated $260 million. The porous border with Somalia is 680 kilometers long, but it is still unclear if the project will cover that entire distance. (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], April 10). Defending the wall will require an enormous and expensive permanent deployment of police or troops whose supplies will need to be trucked in despite a general absence of roads in the region.

Police Recruits

Deep corruption in the security services, especially the police, has produced a certain lethargy in Kenya’s response to terrorist activity. Unsurprisingly, the Garissa massacre is now being used to legitimize corrupt police hiring practices that were recently the subject of an unfavorable ruling by Kenya’s High Court, which still maintains a reputation for honesty and independence from the executive branch. The ruling cancelled the 2014 recruitment of 10,000 police recruits who had paid substantial bribes for a place on the police force.

Despite the ruling, the president issued a directive that the 10,000 police recruits should report for training immediately to protect the border with Somalia. This led to a flurry of contradictory statements from various government and oversight sources that pointed to a severe breakdown between the executive branch and the judiciary. The president’s directive constitutes a violation of the Kenyan constitution, an offense for which the president could be impeached. Kenyatta, however, has the support of a majority of parliament, making impeachment proceedings unlikely (Standard [Nairobi], April 12).

Amniyat on the Ropes?

Created by late al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr,” Amniyat is a secretive unit within al-Shabaab that acts as the organization’s intelligence unit while also providing internal security, operational planning and bodyguard services for al-Shabaab’s leader. In Godane’s hands, Amniyat was used to crush internal dissent through a string of assassinations and to orchestrate ruthless attacks on civilians both inside Somalia and beyond in AMISOM-member nations like Kenya and Uganda. Godane used Amniyat to consolidate his control of al-Shabaab by suspending the al-Shabaab Shura and making Amniyat the most powerful force within the organization while reporting directly to him. Amniyat has been particularly successful in infiltrating the Somali security forces and even the highest levels of the Somali Federal Government, enabling the group to carry out brazen attacks within Mogadishu and other cities before melting back into the population (, October 22, 2014). Nonetheless, with massacres like Westgate and Garissa to their credit, Amniyat’s leaders have become targets for Somalia’s central government and its ally, the United States:

  • In January 2014, a U.S. drone strike killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Amniyat member.
  • In late December 2014, a U.S. drone strike killed Abdishakur Tahlil, the new Amniyat commander, only days after he succeeded Zakariya Hersi as leader of the unit (BBC, December 31, 2014).
  • Former Anmiyat leader Zakariya Ahmed Ismail Hersi defected from al-Shabaab to the government in January. The former al-Shabaab intelligence chief renounced violence at a government-sponsored news conference, but his defection may have been due to a feeling of insecurity due to tensions within the group’s leadership (Business Insider, January 28).
  • In early February of this year, a U.S. drone strike in Dinsor killed Yusuf Dheeq, a senior Amniyat member, and several other al-Shabaab fighters (Dalsan Radio [Mogadishu], February 6).
  • In late March, high-ranking Amniyat operative Mohamed Ali Hassan surrendered to Somali National Army forces in the Bakool region of southern Somalia (Garowe Online, March 30).
  • Adan Garaar, believed to be the head of Amniyat’s external operations, was killed in a U.S. drone strike at Bardhere in mid-March. Garaar was a leading planner of the September 2013 Westgate attack in which 70 people were killed, as well as being especially active in organizing a wave of terrorist attacks and massacres in northeast Kenya’s Mandera County (Star [Nairobi], March 14; Standard [Nairobi], March 22).

Amniyat appears to have responded to these relentless attacks on its leadership by mounting ever more spectacular attacks on civilian soft-targets, especially within Kenya, where it operates with little local interference.


The presence of 2.5 million ethnic Somalis in Kenya’s chronically underdeveloped northeast region can no longer be ignored by Nairobi if it is to deal with the terrorist threat from al-Shabaab, which is also eager to recruit non-Somali Muslims in Kenya. President Kenyatta appears to have accepted the internal nature of the Islamist threat on April 4, when he told the nation: “Our task of countering terrorism has been made all the more difficult by the fact that the planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities” (Guardian, April 5). At the same time, however, Kenya’s efforts are likely to be in vain so long as Kenya’s security forces fail to learn from or even acknowledge past mistakes in order to protect their reputation. In addition, Nairobi’s larger strategy of creating a buffer-state in Jubaland must also be regarded as a financially and diplomatically expensive failure in terms of ending the cross-border movement of terrorists and refugees.

Though the KDF is now in control of southern Somalia, the question is how long it would take after a KDF withdrawal for al-Shabaab forces to begin rebuilding their movement by retaking important ports like Kismayo. Recidivism is a common theme in al-Shabaab ideology (ethnic-Somalis are currently spread across several countries) and remarks made by the attackers at Garissa indicate the movement may have greater aspirations in northeastern Kenya than merely putting pressure on Nairobi. Kenya’s incursion into Somalia may have locked the nation into a long and costly struggle, pitting a government, which is determined to hold onto northeastern Kenya, against radical Somali Islamists who are intent on reversing the colonial division of 1925.


  1. The number of dead ranges from 380 (a government estimate) to 5,000. The victims were members of the Degodia, an ethnic-Somali clan resident in Kenya that is part of the larger Hawiye confederation.


This article first appeared in the April 17, 2015 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


GATIA: A Profile of Northern Mali’s Pro-Government Tuareg and Arab Militia

Andrew McGregor
April 3, 2015

A little more than a year after a French and African Union military intervention drove an Islamist coalition from their bases in northern Mali in early 2013, Prime Minister Moussa Mara ignited the seething tensions in the area with an ill-advised visit to the Kidal region (a stronghold of separatist Tuareg rebels) in mid-May 2014. Within days, the Malian Army was in full flight from angered Tuareg insurgents in Kidal and many other sites of strategic importance in the north, including towns along the main drug-trafficking and smuggling routes that connect northern Mali to the northern Sahara and the Mediterranean coast.

Mali - Hajj ag GamouGeneral Hajj ag Gamou (right), with Chadian officers during operations in Mali

As a result of the army’s rapid flight, a significant portion of the Tuareg and Arab communities of the north that have no interest in separatism or the formation of an Islamic state were suddenly once more at risk from politically-motivated violence. These communities responded by transforming their pro-government Tuareg militia into a more inclusive pro-government self-defense organization, the Groupe Autodéfense Touareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA), led by the only Tuareg member of Mali’s general staff, General Hajj ag Gamou. With an estimated 1,000 fighters drawn from Tuareg and Arab communities, the movement announced its formation on August 14, 2014. Since then the group has emerged as a powerful obstacle to the ambitions of those militant groups in northern Mali seeking greater autonomy or the establishment of an independent state to be known as “Azawad.”

Formation and Aims

According to GATIA’s secretary-general, Fahad ag Almahmoud, the movement was formed after the May 2014 withdrawal of the Malian Army from its positions east and north of Gao rendered the Tuareg and Arab communities “defenseless” (Le Monde, February 9, 2015). Failing to obtain the support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali-MINUSMA) or French military forces (which the movement suspects of supporting the Tuareg separatists of the Mouvement National pour la liberation de l’Azawad [MNLA]), GATIA’s founders observed that only armed groups were being given a seat at the peace negotiations that followed: “There was no mission to substitute ourselves for the army or [government] assistance, we just have the same enemy. In reality, when we took up arms, the Malian Army no longer existed [in northern Mali]” (Le Monde, February 9, 2015; RFI, August 16, 2014).

The establishment of GATIA, however, is not just a response to growing insecurity in the absence of government security forces. It is, in many ways, also the result of a long-simmering conflict between the noble Tuareg clans of Kel Ifoghas (a.k.a. Kel Adagh) and the Tuareg vassal clans known as Imghad. The introduction of democracy after independence in 1960 allowed the more-numerous vassal classes of Tuareg and Arab society to accrue authority as elected officials over the less numerous noble groups. For many in the non-noble classes, Malian citizenship also offered a chance to restructure traditional Tuareg and Arab society in their favor, while the noble castes objected to these developments and their own sudden political subordination to the Bambara ethnic majority in southern Mali.

The rivalry between nobles and vassals was intensified by struggles over smuggling routes, after a new outbreak of rebellion in northern Mali led by separatist Tuareg vassal clans in January 2012 and the military coup three months later that ended Bamako’s authority over the north. When the Islamist coalition occupied northern Mali, the noble Ifoghas group tended to favor Iyad ag Ghali’s Islamist Ansar al-Din movement, while the vassal Imghad (particularly the Tuareg militia led by Hajj ag Gamou) sided with the state. Ag Ghali of the Ifoghas is a bitter enemy of Imghad General Ag Gamou, and is now believed to be in the uncontrolled region of southwestern Libya while preserving his influence in northern Mali through intimidation and alleged death squads which target his opponents in the Tuareg community (Jeune Afrique, February 18, 2015).

Evolving Alliances

The French and African Union military intervention in 2013 shattered the Islamist coalition in northern Mali (which included the Movement for Unity and Justice in West Africa [MUJWA] and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] as well as Ansar al-Din), leading many Ifoghas to abandon Ansar al-Din to form a new and less overtly provocative movement, Le Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA). With Mali’s regular army still absent from the north, there have been calls from Mali’s press and political establishment for Ag Gamou’s GATIA to be formally integrated into the Malian Army (Nouvelle Liberation [Bamako], October 24, 2014).

After the flight of the Malian Army from the north, GATIA joined Songhai fighters of the Coordination des Mouvements et Front Patriotique de Résistance (CM-FPR, incorporating the largely Songhai Ganda Koy and Ganda Iso militias) and the loyalist faction of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA). These took part in a successful battle against a coalition of rebels (HCUA, MNLA and the anti-Bamako faction of the MAA) led by veteran commander Hassane Fagaga at Anéfis on July 11, 2014. [1] Both the MNLA and GATIA use Malian fighters who returned from Libya after the defeat of the Qaddafi regime. One of these, Baye “Bojan,” was an important military commander in GATIA before his death in the battle for Anéfis.

The military weakness of the MNLA (exposed earlier when the movement was sidelined by Islamist militants in 2012) resurfaced in October 2014 when GATIA drove the MNLA from its base in the town of In Tillit (south of Gao) and several other smaller settlements (L’Indépendant [Bamako], October 20, 2014; Jeune Afrique, October 17, 2014). GATIA insists that the MNLA is deeply involved in drug trafficking, though in reality there are few armed groups in northern Mali that have not benefitted in some fashion from the lucrative drug corridors that run from West African ports through Mali to points north and east.

Mali - Didier DackoGeneral Didier Dacko

General Didier Dacko of the Malian Army  denied reports that government forces had provided support to the GATIA attack, adding that “the militia does not act under the orders of the Malian Army” (, October 16, 2014). Mali’s Ministry of Defense has also described suggestions that GATIA was formed from members of Ag Gamou’s militia (an important part of the re-conquest of northern Mali in 2013) and elements of a Malian Army technical weapons group as “part of a pure disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting the Malian Army” (Jeune Afrique, February 16, 2015).

Government denials that it is assisting GATIA may be a means of promoting GATIA as an independent (but Bamako-friendly) partner in the Algiers peace talks, which currently exclude GATIA. This is because if GATIA is too closely identified with the government through a formal relationship with the government there would be little reason for them to be part of the negotiations. General Ag Gamou continues to report to the Malian general staff, but GATIA Secretary-General Ag Almahoud insists that GATIA members receive no pay from Bamako: “Nobody pays us. We do it for honor, not for the unity of Mali” (Jeune Afrique, February 17, 2015).

GATIA’s goals remain only vaguely outlined; when asked directly what proposals GATIA intended to present at the peace talks, Ag Almahoud preferred to describe what GATIA did not stand for: “We are not part of the movements that have taken up arms against the state. We do not demand secession from Mali, nor federalism, nor autonomy” (, October 21, 2014). What is clear is that GATIA sees a future for northern Mali within a sovereign and secular Malian state. Less certain is what all this loyalty will cost, keeping in mind Ag Gamou’s apparent political ambitions.


The flight of Malian troops from northern Mali in May 2014 confirmed once again that Mali’s military is utterly incapable of controlling the north, convincing Mali’s leaders that the deployment of pro-government ethnic militias is preferable to further misadventures by the Malian Army. While the French have committed to a military presence in the region with the inauguration of Operation Barkhane in July 2014, both separatists and loyalists suspect the French of favoring the other side. [2] The HCUA, MNLA and the anti-Bamako faction of the MAA are likewise all determined to prevent GATIA from having a seat at the peace talks, in part because GATIA’s very existence challenges their claim to be the legitimate voices of northern Mali’s Tuareg and Arab communities. On the other hand, the question is whether any agreement reached in Algiers that excludes GATIA could restore peace and order in northern Mali. The internal struggle within the Tuareg and Arab communities is escalating and a failure to address this in the ongoing negotiations will fail to produce a workable solution to the violence in the north.

1. For Ganda Koy and Ganda Iso, see Terrorism Monitor, April 19, 2012, ; August 10, 2012, ; and February 21, 2014, . Both factions of the MAA include many former members of MUJWA.
2. For Operation Barkhane, see Terrorism Monitor Briefs, July 24, 2014, .