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France Backs An Old Enemy
by James Dunnigan
July 21, 2011

France recently admitted that it had been supplying (via parachute) tons of weapons to Libyan rebels. Most were sent to the defenders of the city of Misarata and the Berber rebels in the mountains south of Tripoli. About fifty tons have been delivered so far, almost entirely rifles, RPGs, machine-guns and ammunition. Also included were radios, GPS devices and medical supplies. The basic idea was to put the rebels in touch with NATO so that warplanes could locate the rebels, and get target information. As was demonstrated in Afghanistan in late 2001, smart bombs from above can make lightly armed forces on the ground much more effective.

NATO has apparently taken the Afghan experience to heart, and tuned its intelligence and bombing activities to do the most damage to Libyan government forces. This allows the lightly armed, and poorly trained, rebel forces to advance. It doesn’t take much armed resistance to stop the rebels. But a few smart bombs will often eliminate the opposition, and allow the rebels to advance again.

France seems to believe that the Berbers may be the rebel force most likely to reach Tripoli first. The Berbers, and their southern cousins, the nomadic Tuareg, were the original inhabitants of North Africa (west of Egypt). The Berbers and Tuareg are related to the ancient Egyptians. The Romans knew the Berber Tuareg as the Numidians, who formed the core of Hannibal's Carthaginian army that ravaged Italy during the First Punic War. France found the Tuaregs their most formidable opponents during their 19th century colonial wars in North Africa. The Berbers and Tuareg provided some of the most difficult opposition the conquering Arab armies encountered in the 7th century sweep across North Africa. The Berbers eventually accepted Islam, but not Arab rule. They have maintained their culture, and language, ever since the Arab conquest. The Berber and Tuareg word for themselves is translated as "the free people."

Back in the 7th century, one of the most troublesome Berber armies was led by a woman (the Kahina). Then, and now, Berbers and Tuareg cultures show much more respect for women, who have traditionally been tribal leaders (as the Kahina was). In Tuareg culture, it's the men who cover their faces, not the women and inheritance is through the female, not the male, line. Since the Arab conquest 1,400 years ago, the Berbers have largely retreated to the mountains south of the coastal plain, while the Tuareg cousins remained the principal nomadic inhabitants of the Sahara. So it should be no surprise that the French are betting on the Berbers.


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