Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the attack on the gas plant in Algeria, is a veteran jihadist who fought in Afghanistan back in the early nineteen nineties. He lost sight in one eye in an explosives incident.
. In 1991 Belmokhtar fought alongside fellow jihadists in Afghanistan although the Soviets had left in 1989 after being defeated. There was still conflict between warlords, Islamic radicals and the Soviet backed regime which managed to fend off the jihadists without Soviet help until 1992.
Belmockhtar, was a member of the AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). However, shortly before the raid he was dismissed by the head of the movement in Algeria. His "unity of turbans" combat unit became increasingly independent and was admonished a number of times by the leadership of AQIM.
Belmokhtar nevertheless retained a following. His base is in Gao in northern Mali. The city is controlled by his Movement for Uniqueness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) The militants move from country to country. One of Belmokhtar's nicknames is "Mr. Marlboro". Militants often smuggle cigarettes and drugs to finance operations. The Algerian Interior Minister, Daho Kabila, claimed that there were 20 some militants who entered eastern Algeria through Libya in 3 vehicles. Daho complained: "The Algerian authorities have expressed, many times, to the Libyan authorities, its fears and asked it a dozen times to be careful and secure borders with Algeria." Former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told Russia Today that many of the terrorists in Mali were well-trained by the US and know how special forces operate. Maloof thinks that in France and Europe in general there may be a backlash against participation in the war and that the US might enter the war more directly. Personally, I doubt that many had such training. Maloof must be thinking of members of the Malian army who joined the rebels.
The US will not want to send troops into the conflict except for a few special forces. France too, will probably want to have African forces carry out most of the activity on the ground. No doubt armed drones along with other aircraft will be used. The French have lost at least one helicopter. The US and France already have drones in Mali.
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