In another sign of an increasingly assertive United Nations, the UN Security Council has voted to authorize an African led military force to oust Islamists who have seized power in Northern Mali. The force will be given an initial mandate of 1 year.

Northern Mali

Mali has devolved into a mess in recent months. When the government failed to put down a rebellion led by the nomadic Tuaregs in Northern Mali, a group of dissatisfied soldiers and officers led a coup d’état to oust the then President Amadou Toumani Touré and suspended the constitution afterwards. Since then the national government has been stabilized, however the northern region of the country is still in open revolt.

In the ensuing chaos the Tuaregs seized control of northern Mali with Malian military forces abandoning their posts and fleeing southwards. The rebellion in Northen Mali was led by the  National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), made up mostly of Tuaregs, a nomadic, Islamic group of people living in the Saharan desert. The MNLA is Islamic based, but is not normally associated with extremist elements.

The MNLA has seen its power curtailed, however, with the rise of more extremest groups, including the Asar Dine and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOWJA). Initially the various groups had pledged to form an Islamic state together, however, the increasing assertiveness and extremism of Asar Dine caused the MNLA to withdraw from the pact. Culminating in the Battle of Gao, the Asar Dine and its allies seized control of the main cities in Northern Mali.

Asar Dine and its allies have been linked to Al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist organization by many governments and international bodies. For their part, however, Asar Dine has claimed that it is not involved in terrorist activities and is open to pursuing peace in northern Mali. The group claims it is ready to negotiate for peace, though even if they lay down their arms more extremist elements may refuse.

Now, with more extremists elements seizing control of Northern Mali, the United Nations feels that it is time to act. In wake of revolutions across Northern Africa and the possibility of a spill over into sub-Saharan states, the UN needs to increase stability in the region. Letting Northern Mali slip into the grip of Islamic extremists sets bad precedence and could spur revolutionaries from Sudan to Nigeria to pick up arms. As such, the United Nations is showing more force than it has in the past by authorizing direct confrontation with Northern Mali’s rebel groups.

The military force, to be called AFISMA, will consist of Mali forces and forces from other African nations. It will be trained and supported by the E.U. and other western forces. The AFISMA will be given a 1 year mandate and authorized to use any means necessary, in compliance with international human rights laws, to achieve its objectives. This means that AFISMA will be given full authorization to use military force.

Oddly, the operation comes with no pre-committed promises for funding, and so far no one has stepped forward to foot the bill. France designed the current UN Resolution and formerly controlled the region as part of its colonial empire, however, besieged with debt and deficits, they have not stepped forward to pick up this tab.

Whether or not anything comes out of this UN Resolution remains to be seen. The UN has a long history of proclaiming big words and writing numerous resolutions to little affect. Still, there seems to be more international interest from major powers, such as the USA and E.U., given that events in Mali may set precedence for future conflicts and interventions against Islamic extremists.