NEW NIGER PRESIDENT SAYS TRAINING, WEAPONS AND INTELLIGENCE NEEDED IN FIGHT AGAINST AL-QAEDA
Mahamadou Issoufou, the newly elected president of Niger, laid out his vision of a more active and cooperative military response to the threat posed to regional security by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). His views were presented in an interview with Beret Vert, a Niger Army review (Ennahar [Algiers], April 8; AFP, April 8).
Issoufou was sworn in as the newly elected president of Niger on April 8, the culmination of a successful democratic transition following the February 2010 military coup that overthrew President Mamadou Tandja. The new president faces enormous problems in stabilizing Niger, where severe economic pressures make smuggling, banditry, insurrection or even employment by AQIM seem like rational opportunities for restless young men. Niger was ranked 167 out of 169 states measured in the 2010 UN Human Development Index. Despite the economic pressures, the new president has promised the military better arms, training and equipment (AFP, April 8).
Warning that AQIM has the potential to destabilize the “whole of the Sahara,” Issoufou said the “countries of the north” were “indispensable” for training and equipping Niger’s defense and security forces. Suggesting that Niger’s military was operating “blind” in the vast desert regions of northern Niger, the new president urged Western cooperation in intelligence matters. He also supported the further growth of the joint Sahel intelligence center in Tamanrasset (Centre de Renseignement sur le Sahel – CRS) established by the intelligence chiefs of Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania on October 7, 2010 (see L’Expression [Abidjan], October 7). Issoufou said he envisaged Niger’s military deployed in new barracks and forward posts throughout the country, including the deployment of Nigerien Special Forces in strategic frontier zones.
Niger’s own army, the roughly 8,000 man Forces Armées Nigeriennes (FAN), is dominated by members of the Djerma-Songhai, historical rivals of the Saharan Tuareg of northern Niger. Fees from uranium concessions form an important part of the military’s funding. The Tuareg have urged military recruitment in northern Niger, which would help end local perceptions of the army as an occupation force.
Only hours after his inauguration, Issoufou took an important step towards reconciliation with Niger’s Tuareg community by appointing Brigi Rafini, an Agadez Tuareg, as his new Prime Minister. Like Issoufou, Rafini was a former minister in the government of President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, who was assassinated by members of his own bodyguard with a truck-mounted machine gun in 1999.
LIBYAN TELEVISION CHIEF DESCRIBES ARAB-WESTERN CONSPIRACY AGAINST TRIPOLI
Libyan poet Ali al-Kilani is a member of Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s inner circle and has been described as the “poet of the Green Revolution.” As director of Libyan television, al-Kilani has played an important role in defining and presenting the regime’s version of events in Libya. Al-Kilani gained international attention in 2007, when he wrote a song entitled “Al-Qidis Saddam” (The Holy Saddam), which praised the late Saddam Hussein and denounced his executioners (al-Bawaba, July 19, 2007; al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2009). He recently gave his views on the current rebellion and his perception of bias in the Arab media to a pan-Arab daily (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 12).
From the beginning of the rebellion, the Qaddafi regime has condemned the coverage provided by most of the Arab media, going so far as to jam satellite channels such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. Al-Kilani insists that their coverage is inaccurate and influenced by foreign powers: “These channels say that al-Qaddafi is in Venezuela, while al-Qaddafi is in Libya; they say that al-Qaddafi’s daughter has fled, while she is in Libya. This is deceptive news, unfair and supported by foreign funds against Libya.”
Al-Kilani is particularly angered by the portrayal in the Western and Arab press of armed rebels as “innocent civilians”: “How can civilians possess RPG and Kalashnikov weapons, and come out with these weapons from their region to Tripoli? … From Darna to Benghazi, to Ajdabiya and to Burayqah they move riding tanks and military transport vehicles with U.S. aircraft over them; what kind of civilians are these?”
Al-Kilani describes the rebellion as a mix of religious, political, media and military elements forming a “tight-knit conspiracy.” On the ground the Libyan regime faces “the weapons of terrorism and al-Qaeda,” supported by deviant clerics and F-16 aircraft.
Rejecting all foreign intervention in Libya, al-Kilani states the conflict is an internal affair: “Today some 500 rockets from Qatar and the UAE have been used; these are our brothers; what have we done to them? We go to them as tourists; what have we done to them? What have we done to [Arab League Secretary-General] Amr Musa?” Though Qaddafi’s Libya is famous for its meddling in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, al-Kilani claims “If there is a dispute between a Qatari man and his father and brother, we have nothing to do with it; if there is a dispute in the UAE, we have nothing to do with it; therefore this is our own affair.”
Responding to reports carried by the Arab press that members of the Libyan government are confined to the Bab al-Aziziyah barracks in Tripoli, al-Kilani insisted that these were “lies and falsifications.” When asked why Minister of Defense Major General Abu Bakr Yunous has not been heard from (he was reported to have been detained by Qaddafi in the early days of the rebellion when he refused to issue orders to fire on demonstrators), al-Kilani said: “He is there in his ministry, may God prolong his life. He is a struggler. Come and see him.”