Hollande has ordered air strikes against rebels who have taken control of Northern Mali. French President, François Hollande, has announced that the operation would last “as long as necessary.” Mirage fighter jets, as well as combat helicopters, have been used to attack rebel strongholds. Additionally, France already has troops on the ground, including special forces fighting rebel forces in the North African country. On Friday, Hollande offered military assistance to the Malian Government. The actions by Hollande prematurely ended a debate over the West should get involved militarily. Additionally, Hollande’s actions could increase the pressure for other Western countries to help fight.
Malian President, Dioncounda Traore, had formally requested aid from Hollande to fight the insurgents who control an area larger than France. Terrorists along with Tuareg rebels captured the territory in April 2012, after a coup in March of the same year caused chaos in the country.
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Fancois Hollande said in a statement to diplomats, “I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African partners, to the request from the Malian authorities. We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolution. We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues.”
Hollande is not the only world leader taking action against Islamic terrorists in the country. Britain announced late Saturday that the county would help with deploying troops and equipment, but David Cameron has not yet committed troops. The United States says that it was “monitoring the situation closely.” Hollande has asked the US for drones to help France in the conflict. According to the Associated Press, the US has agreed to send drones. Additionally, the UN has approved a plan to send over 3,000 troops from African nations to battle the terrorists.
The rebels in Northern Mali have weapons seized from Malian troops and looted from Libya after Muhammad Qaddafi. The rebels have released videos showing themselves armed with anti-aircraft missiles and high-caliber machine guns. The rebels have vowed to attack French interests, and Hollande has put the country as well as French institutions around the region on the high alert.
French troops are said to have re-captured the town of Konna, which rebels had seized several days ago. Over 148 fighters are said to have been killed in the Konna operation. The mission is going to be a difficult one according to many observers. This is already evident with the downing of a French helicopter. According to the Associated Press, a French helicopter pilot died of wounds in the operation.
US intervention cannot be ruled out. Last month, the US authorized the deployment of troops to over 35 African countries to help train local troops fighting terrorist insurgencies. Many of rebel groups in Africa have links to Al Qaeda, including one of the major groups operating in Northern Mali, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is conceivable that these US troops, along with other troops in the region, could join the fighting.
Ironically, the US got involved in the Libyan war after strong requests from France and other European countries. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy (who might be running a hedge fund) put pressure for more US military help. Some of the weapons in use by the rebels had been guarded by the Government of Qaddafi. This problem is related to a trend stated below, which many observers seem to miss.
The vast majority of Sunni (and Shia) Muslims despise al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Islamic terrorists groups kill far more local Muslims than Westerners. However, a small percentage of Sunni Muslims support al Qaeda, many experts have put that number at approximately one out of ten (a Pew poll which shows similar numbers can be found here). However, with over one billion Sunnis worldwide that means approximately 10 million support the terrorist group. If even a tiny percentage of that ten million are willing to take up arms that could mean tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
If terrorists are defeated in one country they relocate to other unstable countries with large Sunni populations. This is one of the reasons why I consider the war in Afghanistan to be incredibly stupid and counter-productive. The war in Afghanistan is causing a surge of attacks in Pakistan, as terrorists flee over the border. Al Qaeda has a sizeable presence in many countries neighbouring Mali. Some countries in the region where AQIM operates include, Algeria, Niger, and Mauritania.
Success is far from guaranteed in Mali. However, if the West and Malian Government are successful in their operations (and I hope they are), AQIM will just relocate to one of the other unstable countries in the region. Algeria is hesitant of outside intervention in Mali. Algeria has a large ethnic Tuareg population in the South. Additionally, Algeria fought a brutal civil war against radical terrorist groups in the early 1990s. Algeria could find itself in another civil war if rebels flee across the border from Mali.
If terrorists take over Algeria, neighboring Morocco will face severe an enormous threat from its already large group of radical Muslims inside the country. After the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the King of Morocco is likely the most pro-Western leader in the Arab world. The King of Morocco is popular among his people, but extremists inside the country and outside the country would take advantage of the situation. This would likely cause the entire North Africa, from Morocco through Egypt, to come under the control of fanatic Sunni groups.
Of course, there are also greats risks of inaction. Additionally, if the West does win in Mali, terrorists will lose one of its main bases of operations in the region, along with many weapons and leaders of terrorist groups.
However, as outlined briefly above, outside intervention may pose even more risks than inaction. Finally, with the West invading so many Muslim countries over the past 12 years, serious complications could arise between the West and moderate Muslim allies in the region. With talk of Western intervention in Syria, people may ask ‘which Muslim country is next’?
Note: I wanted to cover the latest news from Mali, but I will return to Qatar, then the UAE and Turkey shortly.