Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Editorial

News Opinion Editorial

A Pyrrhic victory?

Algerian forces claimed a decisive victory this weekend over al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militants who took over a giant natural gas plant near the country's border with Mali last week and threatened to kill hostages and blow up the facility. But the resolution of the crisis may turn out to be the classic definition of a Pyrrhic victory — that is, one achieved at such high cost that another like it will likely lead to defeat.

The Algerian government reacted swiftly and ruthlessly to the terrorists, eventually capturing or killing all the militants. But in the process, dozens of Algerian and foreign hostages — including at least three Americans — were also killed, while others remain unaccounted for. And though Algeria claimed the raid was meant to deter future attacks by showing it would not tolerate terrorists operating on its soil, there's every chance that the way this incident was resolved will inspire more such attacks. The U.S. needs to develop better relationships with all the governments in the region if it is to protect its citizens when a similar standoff again occurs.

U.S. officials were plainly miffed that they received no advance warning of the Algerian operation, a complaint echoed by Britain and France, whose nationals were also among the hostages killed. Coming at the same time French military air and ground forces were battling to stop other Islamist fighters from northern Mali from capturing the capital, Bamako, the fighting in Algeria served to underscore the threat to stability posed by Islamic extremism across North Africa.

Mali, a former French colony whose democratically elected government was overthrown in an army coup last year, had been struggling with a low-level separatist insurgency of nomadic Tuareg desert dwellers intent on carving out an autonomous tribal area in the country's north. The Malian military claimed at the time that the coup was necessary because the central government had failed to provide it sufficient arms or support to put down the rebellion.

But since the coup, the Taureg insurgents have been pushed aside by heavily armed Islamist militants trained in Libya during the popular uprising that ousted former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They have taken over a Texas-size chunk of northern Mali as a base for launching attacks to the south, with the ultimate goal of establishing a strict Islamist state and turning the country into a terrorist haven along the lines of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

French airstrikes appear to have checked the Islamists' advance on Bamako, at least temporarily, and France is sending 2,500 soldiers to Mali to join with forces from other West African nations recruited to bolster the government's defenses (the U.S. is providing C-17 cargo aircraft to transport the French military contingent). It was France's intervention in Mali that prompted the al-Qaida affiliate known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to attack the natural gas plant in Algeria, according to a statement by the group, in retaliation for Algeria's having allowed French warplanes to use its airspace to attack their comrades in Mali.

Whether there's any truth to that claim remains to be seen. Western officials say the attack in Algeria was carefully planned and most likely had been in the works for several weeks or months before France sent warplanes to neighboring Mali. But the current instability in Mali, and Algeria's precipitous handling of its own hostage crisis, are clearly obstacles to the U.S. finding reliable partners in the region. Like the aftermath of the Western intervention that helped overthrow Gadhafi in Libya, Western-backed counterinsurgency efforts in Mali are likely to have unpredictable consequences.

Rebuilding America's relationships with the countries of the region should be one of the first tasks of Sen. John Kerry, who is slated to become the next U.S. secretary of state. Whatever the reasoning behind the timing of the attack at the gas plant, the incident highlighted the continuing risks in that part of the world: Mali is unstable, and over the long run, French and West African military operations there may make it more rather than less so.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Do black lives matter in Baltimore?

      Do black lives matter in Baltimore?

      "Black lives matter!" was the chant heard at recent demonstrations in cities and towns from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore. Yes, they do matter, but apparently not so much to some other blacks. Only when a white police officer shoots or engages in other behavior that results in the death of a black...

    • Baltimore violence and the police [Poll]

      Baltimore violence and the police [Poll]

      Is Baltimore's rash of homicides in May related to police being afraid to do their jobs in the wake of the officer indictments in the Gray case?

    • Keep Freddie Gray trials in Baltimore

      Keep Freddie Gray trials in Baltimore

      Attorneys for the six Baltimore officers implicated in the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody have asked a judge to move their trials outside Baltimore City. That was only to be expected given the publicity surrounding the case and the seriousness of the charges. The attorneys claim...

    • Baltimore needs an independent investigation into the handling of the riots

      Baltimore needs an independent investigation into the handling of the riots

      Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts took the unusual step Thursday of personally apologizing to the officers under his command for decisions he made that put them in harm's way during the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray. Despite the existence of an audiotape of the remarks,...

    • Huckabee and the tradition of holy warriors of the left and right

      Huckabee and the tradition of holy warriors of the left and right

      Mike Huckabee doesn't have a lot of prominent defenders, and I am not volunteering for the job.

    • The caliber of communication is in decline

      The caliber of communication is in decline

      Facebook and Twitter have recently been in the news — and not in a positive way. Some people actually are leaving social networking because they believe it is sharing too much, hence becoming embarrassing, and, more importantly, alienating them from real life.

    Comments
    Loading

    82°