March 6, 2011: In Libya, the Kadaffi clan is desperately trying to suppress an uprising among most of its six million inhabitants. The Kadaffis have found that the most dependable troops can be obtained from the nomadic Tuareg tribes in the southwest, and further southwest through Algeria Mali and Niger. There are about five million Tuareg in these countries, but only about ten percent are in Libya. The most likely recruits are to be found in Mali and Niger, and that's where men from the local Libyan embassy have been offering young men $10,000 to join, and several thousand dollars a week to fight in Libya. This is nothing new for the Tuareg, who have been serving as mercenaries for Kadaffi since the 1970s. But now thousands of them are being hired. Times are hard for the Tuareg in Mali and Niger, where drought, and hostile locals have made life difficult. Kadaffi is offering a large payday for those who join. Even if the Tuareg men don't come back, their families have the $10,000, and whatever else their sons send back. If the Tuareg succeed in putting down the rebellion, Kadaffi will likely reward his Tuareg warriors, as he has in the past.
In Libya, most of the 45,000 man army has either joined the rebels or deserted. The security services (80,000 men of the Revolutionary Guard, Peoples' Militia and secret police) have also suffered desertions. Worse, but these guys are trained to bully and terrorize civilians, not fight a war. Kadaffi desperately needs some kickass fighters who don't mind killing Libyan civilians.
The Tuareg have a lot of experience in the violence department. The Tuareg tribes have, for centuries, had a hostile relationship with their settled neighbors in general, and the peoples to the south in particular. The Tuaregs, who are lighter skinned (they are distant cousins of the ancient Egyptians and Semitic peoples) than the sub-Saharan Africans, speak different languages (again, related to ancient Egyptian, not the Bantu, and other language groups found to the south) and have a different lifestyle.
The sub-Saharan governments, especially in Niger, have played up the racial differences, tagging the Tuareg as evil "whites" and urging the destruction of the hated nomads. The southerners do have a beef, in that the nomadic Tuareg have been raiding the more settled blacks for a long time (like thousands of years.) So the animosity is nothing new.
In addition to work as mercenaries in Libya, there is another new element. Al Qaeda has been hiring Tuareg to help move drugs north. Unlike the more secular Kadaffi, al Qaeda does have some problems with how the Tuaregs practice Islam. The Tuareg take their Islam in a decidedly Tuareg fashion. That is, many ancient religious practices were incorporated into the Tuareg version of Islam. This sort of thing is anathema to al Qaeda, in particular, and Islamic radicals in general. Leave the Tuareg and al Qaeda together long enough, and you can expect some homegrown Tuareg counter-terrorist action. But the Mali government doesn't want to wait, for they know that al Qaeda might get into some local mischief first. And the Western nations don't want al Qaeda to have a sanctuary, not matter how transitory, anywhere on the planet, even in the middle of the desert.
The relations with the local tribes, especially the powerful Tuareg, are complicated. The Tuareg are not fond of Islamic terrorism, but young Tuareg are allowed, by their tribal chiefs, to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good, and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses, and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders.
The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south.
The Tuareg, like the Somalis and Afghans, are tribal warriors. If led by Tuareg with military training (like those who have long served in the Libyan army), they would be more effective, but not on a par with trained troops. There are over 100,000 Tuareg men through the tribal zone that are potentially willing to take the Libyan offer to fight. But getting these tribesmen to northern Libya, where the fighting is, takes time. Most of the new recruits are being moved by truck, and this can take days. But if Kadaffi can keep the rebels away from his stronghold in Tripoli (in northwest Libya) for a week or so, a substantial force of several thousand armed and loyal Tuareg can be assembled. These mercenaries would prove a difficult force to overcome.