Yonah Alexander, senior fellow at Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, is out with his annual report on terrorism in North Africa.

U.S. consulate in Libya attacked on Sep. 11, 2012-ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI/REUTERS

His message is an important one:

[T]he threats of Al-Qaida’s new regional hub in northern Mali and from its associates constitute both tactical and strategic challenges. For instance, primary sources of financing of their activities include kidnappings (in some cases kidnapping is outsourced to criminals); piracy; and illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, vehicles, and other contraband goods (at times originating from Latin America onward to Africa and Europe). Intelligence reports and arrests have confirmed that AQIM has established links with Latin cartels for ‘drugs-for-arms’ smuggling into Europe through terrorist-trafficking networks in the Sahel that include members of the Polisario Front.


Also, the increased flow of economic migrants, combatants, and weapons through the vast unguarded porous and national borders in the region emboldens the various terrorist movements to increase their new attacks and carry out their criminal actions with impunity.


Clearly, these terrorist threats have contributed to the uncertainties of the unprecedented Arab uprisings, known as the Arab Spring, which marked its second anniversary in December. . . .Indeed, in the closing days of 2012, the Al-Malahem Foundation, media outlet of AQAP, offered $160,000 for murdering the US Ambassador in Sana’a and $23,000 for killing any American soldiers in Yemen.

For experts and observers around the world, it is clear that an “Arc of Instability” is emerging across Africa’s Sahel which has opened a path for Al-Qaida to shift its center of gravity from Afghanistan and Pakistan to a new sanctuary and has created a potential launching pad much closer to US and European shores.

His observations are confirmed in his country-by-country examination of the strife, violence and jihadist extremism spreading in the region. He warns that Libya is still in disarray (“continued kidnappings, assassinations, and bombings in Libya marked the unstable atmosphere in the country’s political and economic development”). And he recommends the West make strides to provide intelligence assistance as well as economic and technical aid to fight jihadists and help support a stable and sufficient central government. He cautions: “Lessons learned in hindsight can be very costly, and the Mali conflict may portend even more severe security disruptions in the region and beyond.”

In all the kerfuffle over a new defense secretary and sequestration, we tend to lose track of the essential and critical national security challenges. The Senate is still fighting with the White House to get documents about the last fiasco (Benghazi). You wonder if anyone is looking ahead.

What should we be doing in North Africa? What military assets do we need? Unfortunately, one has the sinking feeling no one who matters in the Obama administration has answers. We seem to have learned little from Benghazi. You have to wonder what sort of incident it will take before the Obama administration wakes up.