Recent events in Mali and Algeria have focused attention on the world’s biggest desert. Western intelligence agencies have long been concerned about terrorists and other rogue groups utilizing the vast, barren expanses of the Sahara. In many outsiders’ imaginations, the great desert is primarily a sea of seductive, rippling sand dunes.
This tourist-friendly landscape is characteristic of North Africa’s drylands, but only in part. Much more common is a rocky landscape strewn with scrub vegetation, and marked with scattered oases.
These more characteristic landscapes of gravel and undulating terrain share much in common with parts of Afghanistan, although that Central Asian state is far more rugged.
As the world grapples with the effects of state failure, climate change, and other challenges in the Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa, it is helpful to have a more accurate geographic imagination about these lands.