Template:Infobox military conflictTemplate:Campaignbox OEFTemplate:Campaignbox Algeria 2002-present Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) is the name of the military operation conducted by the United States and partner nations in the Sahara/Sahel region of Africa, consisting of counterterrorism efforts and policing of arms and drug trafficking across central Africa. It is part of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). The other OEF mission in Africa is Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa (OEF - HOA).
Joint Task Force Aztec Silence (JTF Aztec Silence) is the combined arms organization assigned to implement the missions and meet the goals of OEF-TS. The JTF has been part of United States European Command (EUCOM). As of September 2007, with the announcement of the new United States Africa Command, the mission will fall under the responsibility of Africa Command.
The Congress approved $500 million for the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI) over six years to support countries involved in counterterrorism against alleged threats of Al Qaeda operating in African countries, primarily Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, and Morocco. This program builds upon the former Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI), which concluded in December 2004 and focused on weapon and drug trafficking, as well as counterterrorism. TSCTI has both military and non-military components to it. OEF-TS is the military component of the program. Civil affairs elements include USAID educational efforts, airport security, Department of the Treasury, and State Department efforts.
Canada deployed teams of less than 15 CSOR members to Mali throughout 2011 to help combat militants in the Sahara. Although the special forces will not engage in combat, they will train the Malian military in basic soldiering. Areas include communications, planning, first aid, and providing aid to the general populace.
Mission[edit | edit source]
Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara is primarily a training mission meant to equip 10 nations to combat insurgents in the region. Africa Command states:
OEF-TS is the USG’s 3rd priority counter terror effort conducting activities that support TSCTP but are not exclusive to TSCTP. OEF-TS supports TSCTP by forming relationships of peace, security, and cooperation among all Trans Sahara Nations. OEF-TS fosters collaboration and communication among participating countries. Furthermore, OEF-TS strengthens counterterrorism and border security, promotes democratic governance, reinforces bilateral military ties, and enhances development and institution building. U.S. Africa Command, through OEF-TS, provides training, equipment, assistance and advice to partner nation armed forces. This increases their capacity and capability to deny safe haven to terrorists and ultimately defeat extremist and terrorist activities in the region. 
Training Programs[edit | edit source]
Flintlock[edit | edit source]
Twice a year, the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program holds a multinational training exercise. Called Flintlocks, these exercises are meant to strengthen special forces from the United States as well as multiple other nations. Participants include troops from the Sahel and those from NATO members. Flintlock started in 1988 and continued through Operation Enduring Freedom, and is now held in Africa. The exercises teach medical operations, infantry and peacekeeping training, airborne operations, humanitarian relief, and leadership skills. The amount each category is stressed depends on the host nation's needs. In addition, participants are put through different scenarios involving skills instructed during the exercise.
Atlas Accord[edit | edit source]
Although the Flintlock Exercise was postponed, another training program in Mali was not. The Atlas Accord was created in 2012 to train African military personnel in a number of skills while focusing on logistics. The exercise includes classroom instruction and field instruction. Atlas Accord 12 focused solely on logistics and aerial resupply, while the next exercise in 2013 will continue training in aerial logistics but will also include command, control, communications, and computer (C4) techniques.
African Lion[edit | edit source]
The largest training exercise, African Lion, is an annual security cooperation exercise held by the US and Morocco. Created in 2008, this program is designed to instruct a variety of skills, including aerial logistics, non-lethal weapons training, combined arms and maneuver exercises. More than 900 Moroccans and 1,200 Americans take part in the two week exercise.
The Insurgency Since 2007[edit | edit source]
Security Operations[edit | edit source]
On 12 September while delivering food to Malian troops a US C-130 cargo plane was struck by machine gun rounds from suspected Tuareg rebels, no one was injured and the plane made it safely to its destination. So far, over 100 al-Qaeda militants have been killed by hostile conditions and 263 by non-hostile conditions in the Sahara Desert.
On July 5 2011, the Mauritanian military announced that 15 militants had been killed, with 2 of Mauritania's soldiers dying. AQIM countered by saying they killed 20 Mauritanian soldiers. Mauritania later said that Al-Qaeda attempted to attack an army base but the militants were repelled by security forces and that 10 fighters were killed.
1,000 soldiers from Mali and Mauritania launched an offensive on training camps in western Mali. 25 militants and 2 soldiers were killed in the fighting. The offensive ended on August 5 when the remaining militants fled their camps. Despite this, AQIM continued to train recruits, including a growing number of Black Africans at camps in Nigeria.
A 4-vehicle convoy transporting weapons and 59 youths forcibly recruited was attacked by Niger security forces in mid September. One vehicle was destroyed, 3 militants, and one Nigerien were killed. The Nigerien troops also seized one of the vehicles, several RPGs and AK-47s, and the youths. A similar clash occurred days earlier, resulting in the deaths of one soldier and 3 militants.
Morocco dismantled several cells plotting attacks within the country. The first cell contained 4 Al-Qaeda members and was dismantled on September 23 by Moroccan authorities. The second cell was uncovered 8 days later.
One month later, the Mauritanian military announced that it killed AQIM leader Tiyib Ould Sidi Ali in an air raid. The Algerian-born Ali was wanted for a failed bombing attempt on the Mauritanian capital. Ali was also responsible an attack on the Israeli embassy in 2008 and was plotting an attack in Mauritania.
Tunisian authorities broke up a cell linked to AQIM planning to overthrow the government. Several members from the cell reportedly trained in Libya and took part in the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. 12 members were arrested, while 8 others fled to Libya and another to Algeria.
Kidnapping by Al-Qaeda[edit | edit source]
Three Spanish aid workers were traveling by car in November 2009 when gunmen opened fire on them. The unknown gunmen then stopped the car and kidnapped the three workers. The Spanish Interior Minister confirmed the kidnapping and said that AQIM was behind it. One of the hostages, Alicia Gamez was released in March, but the kidnappers demanded that Spain released the AQIM members in its custody. The remaining two hostages were freed in late August, though it was unclear whether a ransom was paid.
Michel Germaneau, a 78-year old French aid worker was kidnapped along with his driver on April 22. Germaneau's driver was later released, but Al Qaeda issued a 15 day period in July for France to return captured fighters or Germaneau would be executed. France refused to comply, and instead mounted a rescue attempt, killing 6 militants, but failed to rescue Germaneau. AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud later announced that Germaneau was executed in retaliation, prompting France to call for more action against AQIM. Winan Bin Yousef, an AQIM leader suspected of executing Germaneau was arrested in November the next year.
Months later, in January 2011, 4 kidnappers seized a pair of French citizens at a restaurant Niamey, Niger. The kidnappers fought their way into Mali, injuring an army officer in the process. Soldiers from Niger and France pursued and killed all four attackers, but the hostages were found dead. After the raid, France condemned the killings and warned its citizens to avoid the Sahel Region.
In October 2011, members of Al Qaeda infiltrated the Rabuni Refugee Camp in Algeria, taking 2 Spanish and an Italian aid worker. The kidnappers were believed to be supported by members of the polisario, which ran the camp. No demands have been made, but Spain is working to recover the workers.
Although foreigners are typically the targets of kidnapping, locals are not. Instead, Al Qaeda has attempted to win over the support of African villagers, Similar to a strategy introduced by Osama Bin Laden. Militants have acted in a friendly manner towards villagers and prescribe medicine to ill people. In addition, the militants pay villagers in exchange for basic services and hand out candy to children. Although the organization as a whole is in disarray, AQIM has tripled in size since 2006.
Weapons and Drug Smuggling[edit | edit source]
Counter-terrorism officials in the United States fear that AQIM and FARC are increasingly involved in illicit drug trade in the Sahara. Officials believe that North Africa is seen by FARC as an easy alternative to European drug routes, which are increasingly difficult to use. According to the Algerian government, AQIM and its affiliates gained $130 million between 2007 and 2011 through kidnappings and the drug trade.
Following the Libyan Revolution, smugglers were reported to have tried to obtain left-over weapons caches for various groups, including AQIM. The Nigerien Army intercepted one such convoy in early November, killing 13 smugglers, arresting 35, and seized a large cache of weapons, while one soldier died in the clash. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of AQIM's top leaders confirmed that his group had obtained Libyan weapons, but denied reports that Al-Qaeda had a presence in Libya. Belmokhtar also denied that AQIM takes part in drug trafficking and claimed that Al-Qaeda was the greatest benefactor of the Arab Spring revolutions. However, Oumar Issa, who was arrested in 2009 with 2 other Malians, plead guilty 6 days after Belmokhtar's statement to charges of trafficking drugs for Al-Qaeda and FARC.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar is alive and leading military operations according to one of his associates on 28 August 2012. He denied a report that Belmokhtar had been killed in clashes in Mali in late June of 2012.
Bomb Attacks[edit | edit source]
Mauritania was the target of 2 car bombing attacks by Al Qaeda in August 2010 and February 2011. The first was when a 4x4 loaded with explosives attempted to ram into an army base. Security forces opened fire and destroyed the vehicle before it could reach its target. The second occurred when 2 vehicles loaded with explosives tried to attack targets in the capital. Again, Mauritanian troops fired on the vehicle, destroying it and killing 3 militants, as well as injuring 8 soldiers. AQIM claimed responsibility in the attack, saying they attempted to assassinate President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz.
A third car bombing, this one successful, occurred in Nigeria. The vehicle rammed into the UN headquarters, killing at least 19 people. The attack was condemned by world leaders, including the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon, who said it was an "assault on those who devote their lives to helping others. In response, Nigeria arrested 6 bombers 11 days later. Nigeria also discovered a bomb factory the next day and arrested one person. Another bomb factory was hit by an accidental blast on March 2 2012, killing 3 members of Boko Haram
Between July and August 2011, 29 members of Algeria's security forces were killed, according to Al-Qaeda. 18 of those killed were victims of twin suicide attacks. Algeria did, however, stop a suicide plot against American and European ships in the Mediterranean. The 3-man AQIM cell behind the attack was arrested in January 2012 while the plan was still in its early stages. Two months later, a suicide car bomber drove into an Algerian gendarme headquarters. Ten gendarmes and fourteen civilians were injured in the attack.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
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[edit | edit source]
- Official United States Africa Command site
- Maps of Operation Enduring Freedom
- Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative Details of the operation by GlobalSecurity.org