Saturday, 12 January 2013

MALI:''Military Intervention'': France has taken the initiative

The growing role of al Qaeda across northern Africa, fueled by Mali crisis is creating an arc of instability across Africa's sahel that poses an acute threat to countries in the region and to Europe. The situation in Mali remains a veritable powder keg.

France led the West on Friday in offering to help Mali's interim government to push back a surprise offensive launched Thursday by Islamist forces from the north. Elite French troops are reportedly already on the ground.

The Malian President Dioncounda wrote a letter to French President François Hollande and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asking for help in stemming the sudden offensive of al-Qaida-linked militants from the north. The letter prompted an emergency meeting Thursday evening in New York of the UN Security Council, which resulted in a call for the swift dispatch of international forces to the region.

Speaking to France's diplomatic corps on Friday morning in Paris, Hollande said: "We are faced with a blatant aggression that is threatening Mali's very existence. France cannot accept this. We will be ready to stop the terrorists' offensive if it continues."

The French president, F. Hollande qualified the pledge by saying that France would only provide military support within the framework of a UN Security Council resolution. French diplomatic sources told Reuters, however, that existing UN resolutions would already permit French military intervention. Hollande and Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore will discuss matters further during a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday in Paris.

On Thursday, the rebel forces, made up of a coalition of three terror groups, succeeded in taking Mopti, the main town in the region and gateway to the north. In Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, the largest cities in the north, the extremists are already more or less dug in, having established defensive positions complete with supply depots and tunnels.

On Friday afternoon, French special forces troops arrived in the city. Their mission is to help the Malian army in its efforts to drive back the Islamists, however considering the gravity of the crisis in French fomer colony, French special forces troops, will likely take an important military role to end the crisis.

France and other EU countries have conducted military training programs in Mali for years, though these were suspended after the military coup last March. France restarted parts of its program after the UN Security Council passed a resolution in late December authorizing the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to aid Malian forces in countering the rebels and recapturing lost territory. The Malian military says that French special forces launched a training program for elite government forces in the central city of Segou.

For now, the frontline between their area, governed by sharia law, and the rest of Mali lies a great distance from the capital city. But Thursday's events have clearly shown the country's military has little with which it can counter the rebel fighters.

Since April, the rebels have held an area in the desert-covered north that is as large as France and Spain combined. But now radical Islamists are pushing into the greener south and expanding the area under their control. Northern Mali has become the largest al Qaeda stronghold since the fall of Afghanistan in 2011, transforming the Sahel from a rear logistical base to the locus of jihadist activity in North and West Africa.

As the Islamist rebels have established their control of the north, fighters from other countries have poured into the area to join the conflict. The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have likewise allowed the transnational terrorist organization a base of operation in Mali's north from which to launch attacks against Western targets.

The rebel offensive would seem to dispel all hopes of reaching a negotiated solution to the crisis. At the beginning of week, when heavy fighting first broke out in central Mali, peace talks scheduled to begin on Thursday in nearby Burkina Faso were postponed until January 21. Now that the rebels have been emboldened by their newly conquered territory, it might be even more difficult to get them to make concessions.

The fact that Mali's crisis has taken root so rapidly, could have significant implications far beyond its borders.The Mali's crisis threatens to create an arc of instability extending west into Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan, even to Somalia.

If resolving the immediate security crisis in Mali is the primary concern, repairing the central government in Bamako and preventing the spillover of terrorist and Islamists into the politically and economically vulnerable neighboring countries should be the obvious secondary concern. This cannot be achieved simply by quashing the rebels alone, but creating the social and economic opportunities that can attract the fighters and those sympathetic to their cause to give up their weapons.

If Mali was the first to succumb to these forces, more countries could follow. The long-term stability requires a developmental aid effort in which the UN, West and US could take, such an effort has lacked the requisite political will and interest--until now.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/African Affairs Expert
Investigative Journalist-Writer