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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Update on the Situation in Mali; Somalia Returns to the Rule of Law

Aired January 18, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, I'm Christiane Amanpour.

In a remote part of the Algerian desert 1,000 miles away from the capital, Algiers, and accessible by land along only this one road sits that natural gas facility that's become the latest chilling and well planned reminder of Al Qaeda's menacing footprint in Africa.

In the words of a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston, "The head of Al Qaeda, its franchise, in Algeria; its body in Mali and its arms outstretched into Nigeria and Libya." My interview with her in a moment.

And then later, across the continent to Somalia and my interview with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. How did Somalia beat back Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda's East Africa affiliate?

But first, Western governments believe the terrorist hostage-taking in Algeria was retaliation for the French military action next door in Mali, against AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This man, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose group claims to have conducted the Algeria attack, issued this warning last month.

He said, "We will respond forcefully to all attackers; we promise we will follow you to your homes and you will feel pain and we will attack your interests."

And just a few months earlier, the other main jihadi group in Mali, Ansar al-Din, made this defiant stance before the cameras.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): We are not here to take over towns. We are here for Jihad to spread the message of the Prophet Muhamed. We are ready to fight France, the United States and all NATO counties (sic). And we consider all their power to be nothing more than a spider web. How can they threaten us with a spider web?

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AMANPOUR: Well, that spider web, as he says, has been fighting them for the past week now with French air and ground forces pounding AQIM in Mali. But it will take years to properly beat them back and to build up a Malian army able to safeguard the country.

In a moment, an insider look at what's at stake. But first, here's what's coming up later in the program.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): When we turn to Somalia, remembering jihadists who had their way, turning playgrounds into battlefields. Now democracy and security on the rise, there's a whole new ballgame.

And vive la France. Celebrating in Mali's almost lost city of Timbuktu.

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AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first to Vicki Huddleston, the former American ambassador to Mali who says the U.S. spent about half a billion dollars trying to keep these militants at bay in the region. In her latest tweet, she says, "You cannot contain extremism; you must defeat it."

So, Ambassador, welcome to our program. Tell me what would have happened --

VICKI HUDDLESTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MALI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: -- if the French had not intervened?

HUDDLESTON: This is the tragedy of Mali, these Al Qaeda terrorists that came out of the Algerian civil war moved down, took over Northern Mali and then, with the guns from Libya, with mercenaries from Libya and with ransoms from Europe, they became strong enough to move down south of Niger River and almost take Bamako.

There are thousands of foreigners in Bamako and in Mali, particularly French. But we have hundreds of aid workers and Americans there, and had they gone into Bamako, Mali, the capital, they would have had hundreds of hostages rather than just those that they have in Algeria, which is already a tragic, tragic story.

AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador --

HUDDLESTON: (Inaudible) there in Bamako --

AMANPOUR: Sorry; Ambassador, is there any doubt in your mind that if France hadn't intervened they would have -- they would have been able to -- that the -- that the AQIM would have got Bamako?

HUDDLESTON: I think so. I don't see any way a Malian army that, first of all, lost up north in the desert, fled, left its arms behind, came down to the south, to the capital and then overthrew the government, would be able to counter these extremely well armed and experienced fighters who have been in Mali's north for 10 years.

AMANPOUR: Well, then, that begs the question. You have written and you've been speaking and you were ambassador there in Mali, that 500 million U.S. dollars -- I'm sure there was much more money spent by other countries as well -- was spent trying to keep these Islamists at bay.

What went wrong? How did these very U.S.-trained Malian soldiers flee when they were most required? What went wrong? Where was that money spent?

HUDDLESTON: First of all, we changed our strategy from assisting the Malians and the region to confront, to defeat the terrorists, the extremists, to one of containing, contain them in the north. While they were being contained in the north, they were being paid large ransoms for French, Spanish, Canadian, Germans that they had captured.

They also took over the smuggling the routes. The -- across the smuggling routes which the cocaine is going across and into Europe. So they became stronger and stronger. But what lit the fuse was Libya.

AMANPOUR: OK. And that was because --

HUDDLESTON: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- yes, and all these people came back, which we've been reporting. So do you believe -- now that you describe this strong, money- fueled, arms-fueled group with a real foothold there, first, you believe that they're on the back foot now after the French intervention.

And do you also think, as Carter Ham, the general in charge of Africa for the United States has said, "We missed an opportunity to deal AQIM when they were weak. Now the situation is much more difficult."

HUDDLESTON: Carter Ham is absolutely correct. In 2004, when they first came -- in 2003, when they first came into Mali, we did assist the region to confront them and the region defeated the leader at that time, who was the leader of the group of Salafists in Prayer (ph).

That was -- he was El Para, the Fox. But when Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb reformed, policy changed and we said we will contain them.

So we did the things. We trained the Malians. We provided equipment. We worked with the Mauritanians, the Nigerians on the neighbors of Mali. But that was insufficient to stop them. So everything was set when all these mercenaries came back into Mali from Gadhafi's army.

AMANPOUR: So --

HUDDLESTON: And then you combine that with the local rebel insurgency.

AMANPOUR: So does the United States, in your view, have to take a more interventionist action in Mali to support the French? And if it doesn't, can the French do it alone?

HUDDLESTON: The French cannot succeed in the northern desert without most likely the Algerians. The Algerians fought the civil war for 10 years until 2002 against these same extremists that head up the Al Qaeda groups in Mali. And they will need the help of Algeria and the knowledge of the desert.

What the United States needs to do and which it seems to do through the Africa command right now, planning to help the African -- at the approved United Nations African militaries to go in, give them planning, give them intelligence, give them training, give them mentoring. I keep hearing no boots on the ground. They don't have to be combat boots.

But we certainly have to have American military boots on the ground to provide that kind of expertise that the Malian military doesn't have, nor does Nigeria that is set to lead this effort or the surrounding states.

AMANPOUR: Give me a sense, because you obviously know Algeria so well, of how Algeria has dealt with the hostage crisis in its own country. Why so secretive? Why go in without warning the West? What do you think? How do you read it?

HUDDLESTON: This is how you would expect Algeria to react. Ten years' civil war, the remnant of the extremists they were fighting, still operating in the mountains. They learned in the 10 years' civil war never negotiate, never pay ransom. I am sure they went in right away so that the West wouldn't push them into any kind of negotiation.

AMANPOUR: And what is at stake for the United States? I mean, look, you know, you say that the policy changed from defeating to containing. That obviously has come back now to haunt everybody, not just Mali, but everybody.

What is at stake for the United States? In other words, can Mali become another Afghanistan? Or another Somalia, as an incubator for a really fierce Al Qaeda that could actually attack Western interests?

HUDDLESTON: I think this Al Qaeda that we're seeing in Mali right now looks to me like it's better armed and perhaps, in some ways, more experienced than the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. What happens if that Al Qaeda goes into any ungoverned area, Niger next door to Mali, that has yellowcake mines, is -- has a very weak government.

It could move into there. It could go toward Mauritania, which is on the Atlantic Coast. It can't reinforce its links with Nigeria and Nigeria supplies 12 percent of our oil and right now Nigeria has been unable to defeat its own terrorist insurgency in the north.

AMANPOUR: So you were indicated in your quote about where all these - - all these groups are. Do you think they're all linked and they all feed on each other and bolster each other?

HUDDLESTON: The Al Qaeda groups all feed on each other and bolster each other. The liberation movement for Azawad that was pushed aside was a local, national, northern nomad group. They had legitimate complaints in the north.

These are people with North African origins. They're nomads. They have different language, culture, ethnic group than the majority group which rules Mali, which is sub-Saharan African. And they have rebelled four times. And each time Algeria has intervened because they look to the north and found a solution. And that's again why Algeria is very important to the solution.

AMANPOUR: And briefly, before we go, is it possible to make Mali a success? Was it a success relatively before all of this?

HUDDLESTON: Mali was a success in that it was seen as a democratic country. And it is extremely good below the Niger River among the sub- Saharan African ethnic groups, of bringing people together, really a wonderful culture and great traditions.

But what has happened is Mali, because it's so poor, one of the poorest countries in the world, and the north poorer than any other part of Mali, it has been forgotten.

And it is as one of the chiefs told me up in Marouane, that if we don't work with the people of the north, with the nomads, if we don't find a solution which is probably a semi-autonomous region in the north for those people, then it will never be resolved.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Huddleston, thank you very much. Thanks for your insights.

HUDDLESTON: Thank you so much, Christiane. It's a pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And as we've just said, Al Qaeda's spinoffs keep sprouting up like dragon's teeth. But in Somalia, a new president promises to defeat the jihadists. When we come back, I'll ask him. But first, the fight against militants isn't just waged with guns and grenades. You may not know that Somalia is home to a world-renowned rock star.

His name is K'naan, and he's putting his music and his popularity behind the new government. Here's his song, "Wavin' Flag," the theme for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Take a listen.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. This week, Somalia's recently elected president met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She hailed the country's major success as she said in beating back Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda's East Africa affiliate. And she bestowed U.S. recognition on the country for the first time in 20 years.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Throughout that time, Somalia was the poster child for a failed state that turns into a terrorist haven for waging jihad. Like Mali right now. Somalia was a lawless state with no government, a state where pirates, warlords and militants ruled the roost and ran amok.

Remember "Black Hawk Down" back in 1993? The attack that finally drove out the U.S. and U.N. forces who had come to end Somalia's famine and to restore hope?

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AMANPOUR: This is the Somalia I found two decades ago.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Under colonialists and dictators, this country managed to stay afloat. Today, the entire infrastructure is destroyed. The grand old buildings are all shut up. There is no electricity. The poles are up, but every wire has been ripped down, sold to countries that need copper.

There's almost no running water. The pipes have been torn from their ditches, sold as scrap metal. This is what's left of the telephone system. They have even dismantled their own factories and exported the parts.

AMANPOUR: Even in the best of times, Somalia was one of the world's poorest countries. It has nothing much worth exporting. Ninety percent of its people are illiterate and most of those who do have an education or business experience were driven out by the war.

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AMANPOUR: We were all much younger then.

And so after years of false starts, Somalia has now turned the corner. It's not out of the woods yet. But Al-Shabaab is on the run after five years of fighting by a U.S.-backed African force.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): And those stolen electrical wires? Look at this. One of the main streets in the capital, Mogadishu, is all lit up again, thanks to help from Norway.

And businesses are flocking to the light and to the newfound security. Ordinary businesses, attributes of normal daily life, like this restaurant, and even a dry cleaner now say residents of the capital, Mogadishu, they no longer have to take their suits to be cleaned in neighboring Kenya.

And sitting atop all of this, the elected government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who really knows the challenges that still lie ahead since just days after taking office he survived a suicide bomb attack just outside the Mogadishu hotel where he was speaking. Take a watch.

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AMANPOUR: So I asked him whether his country could be a test case for eradicating Al Qaeda. We spoke this week just as he was receiving diplomatic recognition for Somalia right here in the United States.

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AMANPOUR: President Mohamud, this must be a great day for you and a great day for Somalia, because the United States has just restored full diplomatic relations and recognized you as the legitimate president and the Somali government for the first time in nearly 20 years.

What will it mean for your country?

MOHAMUD: It means a lot. It means a lot. This recognition from the United States government will help my country open many doors, like the having an international recognition is a prerequisite for returning to the international financing institutions, having the -- going back to a number of other international institutions.

So this is a bold step taken towards normalizing the Somalia in the world community, this relationship.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the issue of militants and Al Qaeda- related militants, not just Al-Shabaab in Somalia but, as you know, across North Africa as well. The latest news about militants who have taken hostages in Algeria at an oil facility, BP facility, how dangerous is the threat of these militants to your region right now?

MOHAMUD: Particularly Al-Shabaab is the center of the militants in the Horn of Africa region and Al-Shabaab now is not in good shape. And it's on the run.

And this command and control has been -- has been destroyed and I think it -- we are in the decline, while in many other parts of Africa it's on the rise. So this is good news for us, that we are facing the decline of the militants. But we are very sorry that many other African brothers and sisters are facing the same challenge we faced (inaudible).

We don't believe that Shabaab is today capable of defeating or resisting (inaudible), because you know, the Somalia and (inaudible) troops, they don't have the necessary equipment even in terms of military and they defeated Shabaab without having helicopter (inaudible) or jet fighters.

AMANPOUR: You say that Shabaab is no longer as serious a threat and it's on the run. You yourself, one of the first acts as president, was actually to survive an assassination attempt.

Are you afraid for your life? And do you believe that you can succeed where others have failed?

MOHAMUD: You know, Christiane, the Shabaab phenomenon was there when I was running for the presidency and I was aware that my life will go into a danger in being -- leading this nation. And I decided to do the work. And when they first attacked, I was there only two days. And I know the risks involved.

But I do believe that I'm not more important than the many Somalis, the innocent Somalis that have been killed in the past by this Al-Shabaab. And at the end, someone has to stand up and I'm very glad to be that someone today. And I do have the belief that we can -- we can defend them and we've proved that so far.

AMANPOUR: Are you concerned that, even though Al-Shabaab is on the run, the sort of links between all these various Al Qaeda-linked groups could influence Al-Shabaab again?

MOHAMUD: Yes, there has always been and there has been link and Shabaab was one of the first footholds for Al Qaeda in the African continent. And I do believe that there is a network that links all of them.

When Shabaab was weakened in Somalia, then only is when this Mali and other areas and maybe -- and maybe more countries, the extremists are emerging. So I believe that there are links between them and bigger links to the Al Qaeda in general.

AMANPOUR: Now apart from Al-Shabaab and terrorism and the security threat that Somalia has endured for so long, it also has been a classic failed state in all sorts of other ways -- infrastructure, the economy -- I mean, my reports from 20 years ago are just stunning when I look at them now, at the state of disaster Somalia was in.

How hard is it going to be to turn the corner, to reintroduce a thriving economy and to have the kind of basic infrastructure that a country needs?

MOHAMUD: You know, there's no one single country in the world who went into a state collapse and who came back by its own. We need the support of the international community to come back. In another sense, Somalia is an exception because there's no one country in the world that has endured for more than two decades of a state collapse.

If we try alone, maybe we can do it, but it will take long, long years. And if things prolonged, there is the probability of relapsing Somalia back to the conflict increases, that chance increases.

So it's one of the reasons why we are here, one of the reasons why I will be going to many parts of the world to get the necessary support for Somalia to recover from the more than two decades of the collapse.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

MOHAMUD: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you very much.

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AMANPOUR: And to hear more of what President Mohamud has to say, for instance about protecting Somalia's women and children, and how he felt about K'naan's endorsement, head to amanpour.com. You'll also find information there about journalists once again being targets in Somalia.

And after a break, we'll go back to Mali, where freedom has returned to an ancient city that was almost lost, to Timbuktu and back again when we return.

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AMANPOUR: And finally, despite the repercussions in Algeria, imagine, as I asked the former U.S. ambassador, imagine if France had not intervened in Mali.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Remember Timbuktu, the legendary city in Northern Mali? For nine months, Islamic militants held it in a fundamentalist headlock, destroying ancient monuments and enforcing their own brand of sharia law. But even though French troops have not yet come to Timbuktu, the rebels have withdrawn and people are coming out of hiding.

While some victims bear horrific scars and tell stories of draconian punishment, there is also celebration. One man told our colleagues who were there, "People can smoke again. Only days ago, limiting up would have led to a whipping. And women can walk outside again without a headscarf."

Meantime, they're waving French flags in the capital, Bamako, and France's president vows that French troops will stay as long as it takes to build Mali's army back up again so that it can take on the long struggle against these militants.

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AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program. Meantime, you can always contact us at amanpour.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

END