Tuareg rebellion could spill over into southern Algeria


Published on Tuesday, 22 August 2023 Back to articles

Main Tuareg areas in Niger and Mali

The current threats from the Sahel are numerous and multidimensional. They are explained in detail in the August issue of Menas AssociatesSahara Focus sister publication. Here, we précis the main potential threats to Algeria.

The well publicised, but not necessarily the most serious, threat is the situation following Niger’s 26July coup because things are still very unclear and unpredictable. Unless a quick diplomatic solution is found the threat of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — supported by France and possibly other Western countries — looks increasingly ominous. It could take several forms and have many implications (see previous blogs).

If that were not bad enough, the situation in Mali, which has received minimal media attention, poses even greater threats because it is potentially far more complex, multifaceted and likely to have a greater impact on Algeria. There are already putative links between some of the armed groups in northern Mali and elements in the former DRS security forces.

Besides the national army, the main groups currently involved in northern Mali are: 

  • The Coalition des Mouvements de l’Azawad, (CMA) comprising mostly former Tuareg rebels of the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA); 
  • the armed jihadist group of Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) led by Iyad ag Ghali; and 
  • Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, whose presence in the region has not yet been noted widely.

There has been increasing tension in the north between the Bamako junta and the CMA, with the regime threatening to launch a military strike into the northern Kidal region where the CMA is based. 

Meanwhile, the situation in Timbuktu is very opaque, with the JNIM forces reportedly laying siege to the city and threatening ‘total war’ against the Malian state. Talha Abu Hind — described as the JNIM’s ‘emir in Timbuktu’ — seems to have declared some sort of self-rule from Bamako and has challenged the army to come and try and liberate the city.

Given the kinship ties between Iyad ag Ghali and several of the CMA’s leaders — as well as their mutual antipathy to the junta and the Wagner Group — the two could form some sort of alliance, as they did in 2012. This would have serious implications for Algeria, especially if it led to widespread fighting in northern Mali which would almost certainly spill over into Algeria. If Algiers were to intervene or assist the military juntas in Mali and/or Niger, in order to help quell any such fighting in the north, it could easily trigger serious unrest in Algeria’s extreme south.

Worse still, the predominantly Tuareg populations of northern Niger and northern Mali could form an alliance against their respective governments, fragmenting one or both countries along politico-ethnic lines. This would lead to an upsurge of irredentism, similar to that in 2012 in Mali, which would almost inevitably spread into southern Algeria.

This excerpt is taken from our Algeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact info@menas.co.uk for subscription details.

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