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  • The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa by Jeremy Keenan
  • Guy Martin
Keenan, Jeremy . 2009. The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa. London and New York: Pluto Press. 278 pp. $95.00 (cloth); $31.00 (paper).

Jeremy Keenan, author of The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa, is a British anthropologist and a professorial research associate at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. He is an expert consultant on the Sahel to the United Nations and the European Union. His book is a revealing account of US policy in the Sahara-Sahel region.

Keenan's research shows that, in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, top US foreign policy, military, and intelligence leaders described the Sahara as a "swamp of terror," indeed a "terrorist infestation," which "we need to drain" or a "magnet for terrorists" (p. 3). Consequently, the Sahara-Sahel was designated a major strategic front in the "Global War on Terror" (GWOT). Furthermore, Keenan's meticulous investigation reveals collusion between the Algerian government—specifically, its security establishment (mukhabarat) and its military intelligence services (Direction des Renseignements et de la Sécurité/DRS)—and the US government, particularly its top military generals and intelligence services.

Keenan's thesis is that "America's GWOT has involved the fabrication of a fiction of terrorism that in turn has created the ideological conditions for the US's militarization of Africa and the securing of US strategic national resources—notably, but not exclusively, oil" (p. 5; emphasis added). Keenan adds that the United States "needed 'terror' in the Sahel. It needed to validate its 'banana theory' of terrorism, which provided the ideological conditions and justification for the militarization of the rest of Africa, and for the securing of its resources—notably oil" (p. 8; emphasis added).

Through his analysis, Keenan reminds his readers of the political history of the Cold War, when the stated goal of American foreign policy in Africa was to contain communism and make the continent "safe for democracy." After the Cold War, under the pretext of promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the United States increasingly intervened militarily in African affairs. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, the "War on Terror" framed, following Samuel Huntington, as a "clash of civilizations" between Western civilization (and Christianity) and Islamic culture and religion became the top priority of US foreign policy in Africa, particularly in the Horn, North Africa, and the Sahara-Sahel of West-Central Africa. The Sahara-Sahel is viewed by American geostrategists and policymakers as an ideal route and terrain for al-Qaeda terrorists moving their operations from the Middle East and North Africa deep into sub-Saharan Africa. This analysis was put forward by American advocates of the "banana theory" of terrorism, so named because of the banana-shaped route the United States believed the terrorists dislodged from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East were taking into Africa across the Sahel countries of Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to link up with Islamist [End Page 138] militants in the Maghreb. This led the United States to launch, in November 2002, the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), designed to assist Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through military training, equipment, and cooperation. Building on the perceived "success" of the PSI, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, later renamed Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), was officially launched in June 2005. The TSCTP—which now falls under the authority of the United States Africa Command, set up as an operationally independent unit in October 2008—has been expanded to include, in addition to the four member-states of the PSI, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria.

In painstaking detail, Keenan documents that between February 21 and April 11, 2003, seven groups of European tourists numbering thirty-two persons "literally disappeared without trace in the Algerian Sahara" (p. 14). News reports at the time suggested that an al-Qaeda-related Algerian terrorist organization, the Groupe Salafiste pour la Pr...


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pp. 138-141
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