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Algeria hostage crisis brings world to North Africa's anti-Islamist fight (+video)

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But other Algerian officials told local reporters that as many as 30 hostages died in the helicopter assault. That number was closer to what militants associated with the hostage takers reported. Islamist militants associated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda’s principle affiliate in the region, claimed that 35 hostages had died in the Algerian helicopter assault.

American involvement in the effort to resolve the hostage crisis was not surprising, some regional analysts say, given the presence of American citizens at the gas facility – and the broader US interest in seeing radical Islam’s spread in the region reversed.

But any sustained US role, for example in Mali, is likely to follow the pattern set by President Obama in the 2011 Libya intervention, some experts add. In that case, the powers with the greatest interests at stake – France and Britain ­– were expected to take the lead.

“We’ll probably see much of the Libya model as this [Mali] intervention moves forward,” says Stephanie Pezard, an expert in West Africa and terrorism at the RAND corp. in Arlington, Va. “Just as in Libya, where it was the countries most concerned that were expected to take the lead, in this case there’s an understanding that France is the most concerned.”

But she says she expects the US “won’t be so far behind,” and that the intelligence resources the US is talking about providing “will be particularly useful when it comes to taking back the north” of Mali from the Islamists and pursuing militant fighters in the rugged Saharan terrain.

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