North Africa is quickly turning into something we've seen before -- a haven for terror groups and perhaps even the next ground zero in the War on Terror.
The groundwork for this disaster began to be laid in 2006, when the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat joined Osama bin Laden's global jihad and "[rebranded] itself as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM).
It appears that at first, the Obama administration believed AQIM would limit itself to activities in the Maghreb region "that stretches across North Africa from Morocco to Libya." But last year, it became apparent the ambitions of AQIM were as global as the jihad to which it wedded itself. Thus Sec. of State Hillary Clinton recently described AQIM as "a threat to the entire region and to the world."
What happened last year that helped AQIM go from regional aggressor to a possible global terrorist?
One of the enabling factors appears to have been the vacuum created when Obama helped topple Gadhafi then immediately pulled U.S. forces out and left various factions in Libya to fend for themselves. Unchecked, AQIM and Islamists from Algeria helped mercenaries overthrow the army in Mali, and have seized an area of land "the size of Texas." Reports indicate that approximately "450,000 persons have now fled northern Mali" amid rumors of the "implementation of Sharia law."
And although no one has proven beyond doubt that official AQIM fighters took part in the Benghazi attacks, Al Qaeda's overarching ties to the attacks were "almost immediately" known, according to former CIA Director David Petraeus. And this fits perfectly with the emerging scenario of Northern Africa as "a tribal area where fundamentalist groups are free to train terrorists for operations abroad" and to conduct terror strikes where and how they see fit regionally.
Former Libyan PM Mahmoud Jibril stated as much in late October, when he surmised that the Benghazi attacks happened because "the U.S. and its NATO allies [high-tailed] it out of Libya as soon as dictator Moammar Gadhafi was disposed." Added Jibril, "I think it was a premature decision."
The U.S. recognizes the problem and has begun sending "military aid to Mali's neighbors." The Obama administration has also offered to join France in training and financing an "African Intervention Force."
No one knows if that will be enough to stop North Africa 2013 from becoming Afghanistan 2001, but it isn't looking good.