AFRICA: Saharan Defense Pact
Mali and Niger Militaries Cooperating
The two northwest African countries of Mali and Niger – which share a common border in the Sahara Desert – are forming a cooperative defense pact to counter a rise in Islamist extremism.
The two nations will share land, air and river bases, exchange intelligence and carry out joint patrols and exercises, according to a report by Reuters.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Mali spends just under 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP: $9.07 billion, 2010 estimate) on defense and Niger spends about 1.3 percent of GDP ($5.6 billion, 2010 estimate). Both countries are predominately Muslim but are concerned by the acts of extremists primarilly in desert areas. Much of Mali is desert while nearly all of Niger lies within the Sahara.
Troops from Mali were among the 800 from 12 countries taking part in the Flintlock 11 exercise in Senegal, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. In addition to troops from the U.S. and Mali, soldiers from Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, France, Germany, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal and Spain took part in the 19-day Special Operations Forces exercise that runs through March 11.
There have been a growing number of kidnappings of Westerners by an offshoot of al Qaeda, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), reports the Associated Press. At least two French hostages have been killed during a rescue attempt. The French government has requested its nationals working for international relief organizations in Niger and Mali to leave both countries immediately for their own safety.
Two Canadian diplomats were kidnapped by AQIM in December 2008 and released 130 days later, according to the Montreal Gazette.