The Tuareg Revolt and the Mali Coup

By Atallah, Rudolph | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Tuareg Revolt and the Mali Coup


Atallah, Rudolph, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Rudolph Atallah is Senior Fellow at the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, and Chief Executive Officer, White Mountain Research LLC. Previously he served 21 years in the United States Air Force as a special operations officer and Africa area specialist, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The following analysis was presented before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on Friday, June 29, 2012.

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Bass, Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee:

I would like to thank you very much for the opportunity to testify today at this important examination of the Tuareg revolt in the northern part of Mali and the military coup in the south that overthrew that country's elected government.

While I come to you today in my personal capacity, the analyses and views which I will offer being my own, it goes without saying that my perspectives were shaped by the twenty-one years I had the privilege of wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force, during which time I served in a variety of capacities, including Director of the Sub-Saharan Orientation Course at the Joint Special Operations University, Air Force Defense Attache accredited to six West African countries, and, during the last six years before my retirement, as Africa Counterterrorism Director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Between 2001 and 2003, I spent extensive time with the Tuaregs in Northern Mali, especially in Kidal, Tessalit, Timbuktu, Gao, and several other locations across the Sahara. During this period, the first kidnapping of European tourists by an extremist named Abdel Rezak Al Para took place, and in Kidal, Pakistanis activists from Jamaat al Tabligh made attempts to recruit young Tuaregs for activities abroad, possibly including militancy. As a native Arabic speaker, I had several opportunities to interview Tuareg leaders and local imams about these issues, and about their perspectives on 9/ 11, terrorism, and tribal beliefs. Subsequent work in the region through my company, White Mountain Research, has also afforded me many contemporary insights concerning the rapidly evolving security dynamics in this region. The testimony I will offer today is on based these experiences. Hence, while I am more than willing to answer questions insofar as I can regarding the coup in Mali, I will focus my testimony on the Tuareg revolt as this is the area which I believe I have the most unique knowledge and perspective to contribute.

Introduction: Contextualizing the Current Tuareg Uprising

The 2012 Tuareg uprising is not new. This conflagration should be viewed as a continuation of a half-century of conflict- promoting dynamics that historically have sullied relations between Tuaregs and the various states that attempted to subjugate or delimit their social, political, and economic practices. Understanding the current rebellion necessitates coming to terms with this history, which started long before Mali's independence in 1960.

The following testimony a snapshot of a rapidly evolving and complex problem set provides this historical context, while shedding light on contemporary Tuareg social, political, and economic dynamics that critically impact security in the Saharan and Sahelian regions of Africa. Of particular interest to US policymaking is the complicated relationship between the Tuaregs and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda (AQ) a relationship driven by a convergence of interests, not ideology. In the end, it will become evident that those seeking to promote stability in the region and confront violent extremism including AQIM should not ignore the Tuaregs given the integral role they play in regional security and economic growth.

The Tuaregs and decolonization

The Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic people that live in the Saharan and Sahelian regions of southern Algeria, western Libya, northern Mali, northern Niger and northeast Burkina Faso. …

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