Thursday, 17 January 2013

Hard, fast blowback from Mali in the Sahara Desert - and the Scottish dimension

The British government is, it appears, a helpless bystander in the Algerian hostage crisis.

David Cameron was not told that the rescue mission was going ahead until it was underway despite explicitly telling the Algerian government he wanted to be informed if there was a military operation being planned.

A spokesman for Prime Minister told us this afternoon that  they were not given prior notice of the Algerian military operation and would have"preferred to have been informed" - code for being furious at being cut out of the loop.

MoD officials preparing to brief the PM are probably watching images of the violence unfolding in the Sahara desert on footage snatched  from US drones. But we appear to have little eyes and ears on the ground.

Apart from the immediate danger for the hostages what will leave Whitehall reeling is the swiftness of the blowback from France's Mali mission.

It was only last Friday that French jets bombed Islamist rebels advancing on the Mali capital with Britain providing logistical back up for the operation.

Within a week British and French workers hundreds of miles from the action have been brutally attacked by a heavily armed, and highly organised, militia. There are new lessons in asymmetric warfare being taught in the sands of the Sahara right now.

At a human level the situation is still grave and confused as the Cobra committee convenes for the second time today.

There are at least five Britons caught up the crisis and, we think,  up to three of them could be Scottish.
RTE news, quoting the Algerian state news agency, reported mid-afternoon that two Scots were among those freed by Algerian forces.

Speaking on Sky News the brother of freed Irish man Stephen McFaul said he had spoken by phone to the family last night as gunfire could be heard in the background.

McFaul escaped by hiding in accommodation block with a Scottish worker, said the brother, raising some hope that the unnamed Scot may have survived too.

The Foreign Office in London is highly attuned to the Scottish dimension, liaising with Scottish government ministers and making sure the Met police are in contact with the Scottish officers who will be with the  affected families.

The echo of  James Coyle, the Scottish oil worker who phoned the BBC when the Libyan revolution was  kicking off last year, still rings in the ears of the Foreign Office, I'm told.

Coyle, from Erskine, was left stranded with 300 people in a Libyan desert camp as armed looters took advantage of the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi.

In desperate terms he told  BBC Radio how his group has just one day's supply of food and water left. That led to Cameron having to apologise for the government's handling of the evacuation of British nationals from Libya.

This time, despite everyone doing the right thing, the British can only look on as Algeria, perhaps to prove its tough credentials to other hostage takers on its southern border, goes in hard.

Coyle eventually made it out of Libya in a convey of coaches to the Egyptian border. The fate of the Britons caught up in the Algeria crisis, the biggest hostage situation in years, is unknown tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment