A reader writes:
I read your blurb on Africom this morning. I was in Mali (in the desert town of Timbuktu - lo, it exists!) last month, and saw a bunch of very clean-cut Army types riding around in SUVs and reading novels in the airport lounge. My Tuareg friend told me they were part of the new US counterterrorism initiative in the region, still in its embryonic stage. I think the Examiner piece was unfortunate in its wording about the Sahel situation, though, because it makes Tuaregs generally look like extremist Muslim militants. They are not and are very much a part of what is unique and intangible (to Westerners) about the Sahel's deep rooted and nomadic culture. They are loyal to no one.
There is a Tuareg faction in the north that is working w Al Qaeda and has always caused trouble, especially in Mali.
They are looking for new playfriends to cause trouble with and as we all know AQ are always looking for opportunities to latch on --like a lamprey-- to the downtrodden or pissed off. The Tuaregs in Timbuktu, and the southern Sahel, for that matter, would be happy to take this faction out themselves if they could. This kind of militant behavior, especially linked to AQ, will do nothing but damage the welfare and reputation of the vast majority Tuaregs who coexist peacefully with their countrymen and Westerners. If Africom is going to be operating in the Sahel, I hope they are more strategic than this Examiner article implies about dealing with the Tuaregs, who could be their best bet in gaining invaluable humintel and navigating the barely-navigable Sahara.
Here is a better overview from CFR, in case you are interested.