Sunday, November 22, 2015

The messy middle

As we've noted in earlier posts, the emerging bimodal view on what must be done about ISIS is either the Krugman-Yglesias-Klein consensus that any kind of major response is a trap, versus the off-the-record Pentagon-Russia-Israel triangulation of brutal but ultimately effective urban war: Hama, Grozny, Gaza, and perhaps next, Raqqa.

But is there somewhere in between?

In the Bamako Radisson Blu siege on Friday, the Malian special forces faced difficult odds. At least two, and probably several more gunmen had gotten inside a busy hotel, and would kill as many people as they could. They killed 19, but 10 times that number were saved.

Three years ago, the In Amenas siege in southern Algeria took place, which is connected in terms of perpetrators to Bamako. 39 hostages were killed, but Algerian forces freed 15 times that number of hostages, and killed a large number of the Al Qaeda-linked attackers.

Against Boko Haram, the most effective national forces have been those of Chad, but their methods require the occasional wince.

There are some common factors. First, French-style train and equip seems to work a lot better than its American version, not least because the French stick around indefinitely to see what's happening. Second, these forces accept casualties -- themselves and hostages -- as a price of ending a crisis and sending a signal of their intent (a cliche normally reserved in western countries for sports commentary).

Of course, these tactics come with costs, and reflect the circumscribed politics of the countries. But from their perspective -- and arguably from the "western" perspective, in terms of what it saves "us" from -- it works.

And by the way, it was the Moroccan intelligence service who knew where in Europe the most wanted man in Europe was. And now he's dead.

The solution to a problem that severely afflicts Africa might lie in ... Africa! 

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