By Tom Castle
Representative of both French and British imperialism have begun to talk of prolonged military operations in North Africa, lasting a decade or more. Although the US wishes to limit its own commitment of troops to the adventure, the sentiments were echoed by departing Secretary of State Clinton.
The imperialists claim that their protracted intervention is necessary to struggle against Al Qaida-linked terrorist groups that cannot be defeated in a pitched battle.
The reality is that Western powers are simply pursuing their own strategic political and commercial interests. The ‘scramble for Africa’ in the latter part of the 19th century began under a cloak of humanitarian intervention. Imperialist ambitions are essentially the same now as then.
The current intervention in Mali has prompted comparisons with Afghanistan. This alone ought to give pause for thought as Western powers are winding down their military presence in Afghanistan – having been completely unable to defeat an insurgency consisting of rebels, tribal militants, Taliban and remnants of Al Qaida.
Afghanistan is also important because it highlights who created the forces that constitute Al Qaida and continues to nurture them.
In the 1980s the US formed an alliance with ‘mujahedin’ rebel forces that it funded to fight against the government of Afghanistan. The latter was receiving armed support from the Soviet Union.
The CIA organised what was called ‘Operation Cyclone’ to channel hundreds of millions of US dollars to arm these rebels and train their leading personnel, including Osama bin Laden. The US was full aware of their reactionary ideology and terrorist activities. The world has been reaping this cyclone ever since.
US motivation for forming such alliances is straightforward – it opposes regimes which take some independent stand and deviate, however timidly or inconsistently, from the policies favoured by the US.
In Afghanistan the government’s transgression was to call on Soviet military support to fight the insurgents. In organising the overthrow of the Kabul government US imperialism was willing to ally with the most reactionary and sectarian forces.
In effect, the US created Al Qaida as a fighting force in order to attack a regime which was not wholly subservient to it.
This has been a repeated pattern of US-led interventions in the three decades since.
Despite vociferous clams to the contrary, Al Qaida forces were virtually unknown in Iraq. In fact the evidently false claim was made that Saddam Hussein, a secular bourgeois nationalist, was in league with the Al Qaida sectarians – when the latter actually regarded him as an apostate whom they had a duty to murder.
Effectively the reality in 2003 was the US was allied with Al Qaida, not Saddam Hussein. And, in the process of the US overthrowing him it provided a whole new space in and around Iraq for the terrorists to operate.
Saddam Hussein’s crime was his refusal to come to heel in the face of Western sanctions, creating a potential example that could not to be tolerated.
When in 2011 Western powers overthrew Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the most hardened fighters among the ground forces that followed up NATO’s airstrikes were Al Qaida-linked forces. Gaddafi attempted to militarily crush them in their strongholds in the east of the country around Benghazi, an area the CIA had long identified as being the main recruiting ground for international terrorist forces.
These Libyan fighters are now channelling support into the fight to overthrow the Syrian regime, where a similar process is currently underway and the ties between Al Qaida and the Western powers are even closer.
There is lots of public hand-wringing in Washington about arming these forces to overthrow Bashar al Assad, although it should be noted much less so in London and Paris. But Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with whom the West is closely allied, are arming the sectarian terrorists who carry out atrocities against the supporters of the government.
The Syrian regime is being targeted by the West because of its opposition to Israel and its material support for the Palestinian armed resistance. The level of US engagement reflects its reluctance to commit resources as it ‘pivots’ towards Asia and curbing China’s rise.
Now it is also claimed that all the militants in northern Mali and southern Algeria are Al Qaida. On the contrary, there is the age-old independence struggle of the Tuareg people. Some also fought alongside Gaddafi against the Western-backed Al Qaida combatants, who are now among the militias terrorising the population of Libya, especially black Africans.
More plausibly, it is claimed that Gaddafi’s well-armed allies have lost some of their weaponry to the ultra-sectarian militias. That may be so. But without the Tuareg resistance, the West’s policy of using the Al Qaida forces as its ground troops in Libya would have resulted in all the sophisticated armaments sold to Gaddafi falling into sectarian hands.
It is the West that has introduced chaos in to Mali and the surrounding countries, including encouraging a proliferation of ‘Islamist’ militias.
This is all a repeating pattern. The claim that all forces in Muslim countries that deviate from imperialism’s policies are Al Qaida or its allies is a monstrous lie. It was directed towards the secularist nationalist regimes in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. It is now being applied to similar forces of Tuareg resistance, including the MNLA.
It is imperialism which has unleashed Al Qaida and has repeatedly found it a convenient ally in its struggle to overthrow regimes which even partially interfere with imperial interests. Al Qaida’s grotesque and bloodthirsty methods dovetail with those of imperialism. Unable to command mass support and with an ideology that is both anti-nationalist and anti-communist, Al Qaida represents no fundamental threat to US strategic interests.
Allying with the Soviet Union, holding out against sanctions or arming the Palestinians is regarded as intolerable.
Consciously and unconsciously the Western powers are the prime movers behind the growth of Al Qaida.