Yesterday, in western Algeria, near the Libyan border, militants under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar (a former al-Qaeda leader) attacked a gas field, taking hostages, including Americans. The attack was supposedly in response to France’s intervention in Mali. While details are still emerging, this debacle further highlights the freedom with which terrorists in the region operate.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, terrorists have exploited the gaping power vacuum that extends across North Africa and the Sahel. But if you follow the Obama Administration’s narrative, al-Qaeda is in retreat.
First, there was an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans—including a U.S. ambassador—were killed. Then the French intervened in Mali to counter Islamist militants marching toward the capital. And now, terrorists in Algeria kidnapped and have possibly killed an unknown number of hostages, including Americans.
North Africa faces significant political and security challenges. Following the NATO operation that assisted in dislodging Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi from power, the Obama Administration did little to assist Libya’s transitional government in containing the threat of Islamist militancy. Terrorist entities and militias are scattered throughout the country, their activities unimpeded by the fledgling Libyan government.
The report written by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee even indicates that the militia hired to protect the U.S. mission in Benghazi “provided no meaningful resistance to the attackers.”
When the fallout from Libya spread to Mali shortly after Qadhafi’s demise, the Obama Administration encouraged regional actors to take the lead. Indeed, African countries were eager to resolve a crisis that had reached its boiling point. However, while regional actors attempted to devise a solution to the crisis, it worsened. Furthermore, France’s initial road map was regarded by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as “crap.” While her assessment may have been accurate, the Administration failed to offer a better alternative. France’s military intervention in Mali further demonstrates the severity to which the crisis has escalated.
Osama bin Laden is dead, but al-Qaeda is not in decline. The Obama Administration has been caught flat-footed and unprepared to contain the region’s threats to U.S. national security interests. The question remains: How bad will the situation get before the Administration is forced to change course and address the threat of terrorism in the region?