Events in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months indicate a major shift in strategy by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. While many officials mistake this shift as a sign of al-Qaeda’s looming defeat, it actually displays a rapidly growing danger to U.S. national security. Al-Qaeda’s new ability to capitalize on instability amid preexisting rebellions is quite disturbing, and is occurring in several locations. The place of most significance for al-Qaeda is Syria, but a look at their ongoing late-phase operation in Mali can offer some insights into future developments in Syria.
In recent weeks, Mali, a democratic West African nation, experienced two events that threaten the stability of the country: a military coup and a rebellion that took over a significant portion of the country. Although this may not seem like such an abnormal event, given the seeming regularity of coups in Africa, it is in fact a sign of the changing nature of the war with al-Qaeda and its growing umbrella of affiliated groups. The terrorist organization may be weaker than it was a decade ago, but it is less centralized and is spreading into an increasing number of ungoverned areas. The problems in Mali represent the long term issues we may be facing in regards to al-Qaeda.