EU unity ‘key’ to fighting terrorism in the Maghreb
Much has been made in recent days about the parallels between comments made by Prime Minister David Cameron following the Amenas gas plant hostage crisis and Tony Blair in the wake of Sept. 11 and prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is the work our generation faces and we must demonstrate the same resolve and sense of purpose as previous generations have with the challenges that they faced in this House and in this country,” Cameron said in a speech to the House of Commons on Monday, warning further that the Maghreb was “becoming a magnet for jihadists from other countries who share this poisonous ideology.”
“We must frustrate the terrorists with our security, beat them militarily, address the poisonous narrative they feed on, close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive and deal with the grievances they use to garner support,” he said.
Both Cameron and Blair promised to take the fight to the doors of terrorists, and the need to “overcome” terrorism both militarily and ideologically, with the effects of the latter’s commitment to military action still being felt in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
A meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), held yesterday, has called for a new focus on north Africa and away from a sole focus on Afghanistan. Cameron himself has claimed that while at one point three-quarters of terrorist plots against the UK came from Afghanistan, that has now been reduced to less than half.
Britain is also expected to commit to further support for France in its campaign to bolster Mali’s efforts to rid its north of Islamist militants. This action is seen as integral to ensuring that Islamist militancy doesn’t spread to remote areas of Algeria, Niger and Mauritania as well as Libya.
That said, Susi Dennison, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes that further British involvement in North Africa is likely to take the form of strategy and intelligence rather than military engagement. Britain has already provided France with supply vehicles for its ongoing Mali campaign.
Britain is also likely to want to ally itself with a broader European effort in North Africa, although the success of a common EU approach is doubtful, Dennison told Arab News. European power in North Africa still lies primarily in the EU capitals, with Paris, Rome and London dealing with regional powers — such as Algeria — on an individual basis.
“I think this is a classic example of where cohesive EU action would be more effective — but I don’t think we will get it,” she said.
In a country still reeling from the death of as many as six of its citizens, opinion is divided on what Britain’s response should be, with The Times Tuesday citing military sources saying that British troops are on alert and military action in Mali could be on the cards. On this point Dennison, for her part, is skeptical.
“I think that though there might be parallels on the language used (between David Cameron and Tony Blair), Mali will remain France’s leadership and though I expect we will see Britain’s engagement in the region increase this will be in a supporting role militarily,” she said.
Elsewhere in the media, there has been criticism of Cameron’s George W. Bush-era language in his first response — on Sunday — to the Algeria hostage crisis, when the prime minister spoke of terrorists “wanting to destroy our way of life” and warned that the response to the Amenas attack “could last decades.”
“The guiding principle of any response, Western or regional, to Islamic militancy should be clear by now: Don’t make it worse; don’t talk about global wars, existential threats to ‘our way of life,’ conflicts that could last for decades, spreading to new continents,” claimed yesterday’s leader in The Guardian.
“After so many years of fruitless war, a British prime minister might have been expected to unpick the narrative of a clash of civilizations.”