Problems & Solutions
One solution to the problem that AQIM presents to Northern Africa is inexorably linked to the fashion in which the organization conducts itself in the future. As has been seen with other groups, militant extremists tend to sow the seeds of their own demise through their treatment of the local population – their support structure. AQIM itself has had experience with this issue when it was engaged in the Algerian civil war as the GIA, but whatever lesson was learned seems to have quickly been forgotten. Despite its affiliation with the broader al-Qaeda network, AQIM is not a large and powerful force and thus requires cooperation from locals to succeed. If it begins to overestimate the fervor with which said populations support its goals, especially given their terroristic nature, then it may find itself delegitimized once again.
Another problem deals with the fact that AQIM will likely stay focused on its regional goals, as opposed to expanding terrorist operations overseas. It is no secret that the various branches of Al-Qaeda, though comprising a vast network, rarely work in conjunction unless their goals align. To think of AQIM as a fervent advocate of all Al-Qaeda’s goals would insist that the organization has abandoned its regional objectives in favor of the overarching global jihadist theology, and that just isn’t so. The fact is that they have a mutually beneficial arrangement which strengthens each, and which also exacerbates the problem. For example, the wider Al-Qaeda network now has more direct access to Europe by way of Northern Africa, and AQIM is benefitting from the legitimacy it is being afforded by simply being affiliated with the organization. Basically, it now has greater access to knowledge, weapons and finances than before, making it all the more likely to develop further, especially given a region where instability and lack of security make such operations opportune.However, if said growth is cause for concern, it also has potential benefits from a counter-terrorism perspective. The group will be prone to infighting and internal divisions as their ranks grow, which portrays the group as dysfunctional and thus undermines their reputation in the region. It is these weaknesses of upon which governments can play in their efforts to combat terror.
Economic development that results in employment opportunities for would-be criminals and jihadists in the region should unquestionably be part of the strategy to counter the influence of AQIM. Far too often do rampant corruption and poor governance structures contribute to recruitment for militant groups with anti-western ideologies. Many people in the poorer parts of the Meghrab are known to earn a livelihood smuggling goods between nations for terrorist organizations, and failing to provide any alternative to this source of income could only further antagonize a population. Therefore, generating these developments is a long-term task, yes, and may prove to be difficult in less wealthy Meghrabi countries, however it is a suggestion which must be part of the broader solution.
Local Counterterrorist Efforts
Although many of these solutions might offer non-violent strategies for combating AQIM, the reality is that direct military action is always a possibility that should be considered as the most effective short-term measure to disrupt terrorist activity. Persistent, targeted pressure against Al-Qaeda affiliates, especially their leaders, would be very beneficial in making these groups question their own security, thus forcing them to halt their activities in favor of rebuilding a safety-net. Being that AQIM presents no immediate threat to the U.S. homeland, policy dictates that drone strikes are out of the question. Additionally, collateral damage to civilian communities as a result of these strikes would only further increase the threat the organization presents by fanning its support. If the local counter-terrorism efforts are inadequate, then it is necessary to build up their combative capacity in order to secure long-term and effective efforts.