Chester A. Crocker and Ellen Laipson: The Latest Front in a Long War

tags: terrorism, NYT, Africa, Mali, security



Chester A. Crocker is professor of strategic studies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and served as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989. Ellen Laipson is president of the Stimson Center.

HISTORY has often shown that military victories do not automatically translate into political success. This is true in the recent military victory of French and government of Mali forces in their fight against radical Islamist insurgents who tried to seize power in the North African nation. The small victory in Mali is just the beginning of what will likely be a very long struggle for control of the Sahel — the trans-Saharan badlands that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

We all know now that President George W. Bush was premature when he said in 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” as he stood in front of a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” It would be equally premature today to say that success in Mali signals the defeat of jihadist forces in the Sahel.

The Sahel divides the Sahara desert from the grasslands to the south. The unstable region stretches 3,400 miles west to east across parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. Militias roam the region trafficking in drugs and arms, seizing hostages for ransom, and trading livestock....



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