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Five possible solutions for kidnappings in Africa's Sahel region

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Since 2007, kidnappings and murders of Westerners in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have presented Sahelian and European policymakers with terrible dilemmas: Should militaries try to rescue hostages? Should governments pay huge ransoms to terrorists? How can authorities prevent kidnappings? How can governments work together to neutralize AQIM?

I am exploring these questions in a three-part series. Part one cataloged kidnappings. Part two argued that ransoms are preferable to rescues because rescues are risky, ransoms save lives, and ransom payments have not produced a clear increase in kidnappings. This final installment moves past the ransoms-vs-rescues debate to assess the pros and cons of different preventive solutions. At the end, I offer a combined approach.

Solution One: Do less

Before considering what more Sahelian and European governments could do about kidnappings, it’s worth asking whether they should do less. Should governments leave kidnapping victims to their fates? Clint Watts writes, “I’m against ransoms entirely and almost always against rescues…If you want to travel to Timbuktu and study ancient texts, you’re on your own! Good luck and don’t lose your head out there!”

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