Mali Islamists seize town amid French intervention

France committed its forces to a military intervention in Mali to stop the Islamists’ advance toward Bamako. Today, they threatened payback.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Diabaly, 400km (250 miles) from the capital, Bamako, was taken in a counter-attack on Monday.

Mr Le Drian insisted France’s campaign was “developing favourably”.

He said Islamists had retreated in the east but admitted French forces were facing a “difficult” situation against well-armed rebels in western areas.

Aid workers said many people had been fleeing areas targeted by the French.

The UN Security Council is due to discuss Mali later on Monday.

Germany’s risky offer of help

French troops in Saint-Dizier

In Mali, the French air force is fighting to push back Islamist forces. The German government wants to stand by its close ally and has offered Paris logistical assistance. Is Berlin getting itself into another lasting conflict?

Canada sends C-17 to Mali on France’s request

David Cameron: No UK troops going to Mali

Mali Islamists threaten to retaliate ‘at the heart of France’

The Arabist weighs in:

 

The situation in Mali, where France has launched a military strike because of the risk that the capital, Bamako, or its surroundings could fall into rebel hands (rebels here including jihadist groups) is incredibly complex. Beyond the question of the secessionist north and the junta that staged a coup against a democratically elected government last year, what is happening in Mali has far-reaching consequences for all the countries in the Sahel region. From those that may be as fragile as Mali is (Mauritania) to countries who appear to be playing on all sides of the conflict to have their cake and eat it too (Algeria). This consequence, in part, to the Libyan civil war is going to be with us for years.

For once, I am tentatively sympathetic to the idea of international intervention, since at least it is UN-sanctioned and demanded by the local government (although of course its legitimacy is scant.) Letting Bamako handle the situation itself hardly seems to be a solution, and the regional solution I would prefer does not seem to be forthcoming since every neighbor is either too weak or too reluctant to do anything. But I am withholding judgement here, since I know next to nothing about the situation. It just seems worth highlighting, though, as this war is not likely to get much attention in English, anyway.

 

10 comments to Mali Islamists seize town amid French intervention

  • “We can’t intervene in Syria right now, we’re intervening in Mali – it’ll be a whole lot easier and get us lots of “tough guy” chops….we hope.”

    Cynically, the Libyan intervention was Sarko’s way of trying to win the election and still not be beholden to Gadaffi for his $50 million campaign donation.

    Since Sarkozy had poor, broke Cameron over a barrel – “join me or forget the newly-signed defense agreement” – Britain went along, and where France and Britain went the US had little option but to follow if it wanted NATO to continue as a meaningful European entity.

    We’re seeing the same dynamic in Mali too, with Hollande seeing it as a relatively easy way to establish he’s a tough guy and Cameron (more reluctantly this time) offering support he can’t afford to refuse entirely.

    France can walk away from the Franco-British defense treaty without losing too much, but it’s highly unlikely that the UK could continue along its current procurement path without it. In particular, Britain’s future nuclear deterrent and future aircraft carrier programs would be seriously in doubt, and cancelling either would lose Cameron or any other British PM a vote of no confidence in parliament the very next day.

    (This gets even worse if Scotland votes for Independence because, despite the terrible domestic optic for any London leader, storing UK nukes in France would be the most likely viable alternate option to nstoring them on the Clyde.This is so obvious given the nuclear portions of the defense agreement already in place it’s significant no-one in London has mentioned it yet.)

    Looking further ahead, France has the UK on somewhat of a short, tight leash for the next decade at least – and since the US has so much interest in the UK remaining a nuclear power with an aircraft carrier, it has the US on a longer and somewhat looser one. They’ve been playing chess while the Anglos were playing tiddleywinks and now have their payoff. Kinda ironic really, since if the UK hadn’t broken the bank following Bush into Iraq and Afghanistan so heavily the situation would be very different. Luckily, the French are too smart to do more than tough-talk about being the lead nation on armed intervention in Syria.

  • Cheryl Rofer

    Steve’s given us one way to look at the situation, considering European interests.

    But understanding the internal Malian dynamics is important, too.

    There are two “rebel forces” in Mali: an Islamist group that is trying to impose Salafi standards on a population that is traditionally toward the Sufi end of the Muslim spectrum. These are the people who are destroying historical buildings and the tombs of Sufi saints. This group has been operating more toward Bamako and is the more immediate threat to the government. They have also been practicing atrocities against people who don’t conform to their repressive interpretations of Islam.

    The other is the Tuaregs, who are in the northern part of the country. Their issue goes across borders and complicates the situation with other countries in the region.

    In what I’ve read (not all the links above), it appears that it is largely the Islamist group that French action is directed against, but that is not called out in many of the reports.

    From what I understand, largely from a former ambassador in the area who has been active recently in fact-finding missions to try to determine how to deal with this situation. The Arabist quote above is consistent with this. It’s not just the people rebelling against a repressive government; it’s much more complicated than that.

  • Mali: No Way to Go to a War Going Nowhere The author, J. Peter Pham, is Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and writes that bypassing the careful sequencing of steps necessary for any real solutions in favor of precipitous military action risks prolonging and, indeed, exacerbating the crisis in Mali.

  • The war in Libya was seen as a success, now here we are engaging with the blowback in Mali.

    Western intervention led by France, supported by Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups. As Professor Rogers puts it to me, it will be portrayed as “one more example of an assault on Islam”. With the speed and reach of modern forms of communication, radical groups in Western Africa and beyond will use this escalating war as evidence of another front opened against Muslims.

    It is disturbing – to say the least – how Cameron has led Britain into Mali’s conflict without even a pretence at consultation. Troops will not be sent, we are told; but the term “mission creep” exists for a reason, and an escalation could surely trigger deeper British involvement. The West has a terrible record of aligning itself with the most dubious of allies: the side we have picked are far from human-rights-loving democrats.

    But the consequences could be more profound. As well as spreading further chaos in the region – just as the Libyan war did – France has already put potential terrorist targets on alert, and its allies must be at risk, too. It is the responsibility of all of us to scrutinise what our governments do in our name; if we cannot learn that from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, then it is hopeless.

  • Cheryl Rofer

    Here’s a map of where France has been hitting in Mali. It looks like they are primarily going after the Islamists: AQMI, Mujao, and Ansar Dine are all Islamist organizations. MNLA is the Tuareg group.

  • Don Henry Ford Jr.

    Glen Greewald weighs in here.

    Ain’t this empire building thing going wonderfully?

    • Jeff Wegerson

      So can we (meaning Agonist types in general) support the Tuareg as a legitimate people deserving a separate nation state, like we might support the Kurds in their effort at independence? Or are they simply looking to hoard some resources for themselves at the expense of the rest of a poorer country. I suppose that could be the Kurdish example as well. But at least the Tuareg would likely allow civil liberties to non-Tuaregs within their separate state? Unlike the Islamists who, like our own religious intolerants insist that everyone march to the same tune?

      Now granted this likely has blowback from Libya, but at least the U.S. managed not to get mired in Libya? So probably any U.S. involvement would manage to remain within reasonable “empire building” costs (as Don wonders). And anyway isn’t this French empire maintenance rather than U.S. I mean it was their colony that is failing now the nation thing because they left it in the lurch when it became to expensive to keep doing the colony thing, yes? So they are feeling guilty? Or some French corporation’s holdings are being threatened?

      And isn’t the French leader at least nominally socialist and Obama nominally anti-interventionist? Or is this another good testing ground for the latest generation of drones?

      And aren’t the Islamists the bad Saudi Salifists attacking the good urbanish Sufi style Muslims? I like the idea of us opposing Saudi-types for a change.

      Did someone say this was complicated?

    • Jeff Wegerson

      Damn. I thought I was replying to Cheryl, Don. Oh well, you have good answers too.

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