The threat of a quagmire in Mali

In response to : The threat of a quagmire in Mali

Ordinarily a French intervention in Africa leads to almost immediate quiet. But the opposition now is well trained and is largely not of local stock, they also have nowhere to go. Going back to Libya or Algeria aren’t real options, and the trek to Sudan is long. I think they could have held onto a portion of the north had they not embarked on the destruction of religious sites that have profound significance for Islam in Western African (Timbuktu in particular) and had they not invaded the south.

The Tuareg nomads may start to feel that foreign islamists are hijacking their cause to further an extremist agenda that isn’t theirs. With a bit of pressure and good politics they may turn against the fighters. Also Mali is very sparsely populated, especially the north away from the river, and bands of rebels are relatively easy to track. The ‘Islamists’ are also very unpopular, especially in the south, because of their disregard for history and heritage and because they enforce an Arab and Taliban inspired Islam that is profoundly alien to Mali. Also only the native rebels don’t stand out, the lighter skinned Arab speaking North African and Arab contingent of rebel fighers stand out especially in the more urban, black and francophone/phile south.

It’ll be a hard slog but a finite one, I think the French anticipated the need for engagement for quite a while. It also is necessary, surrendering the region to chaos isn’t an option. There’s a risk the rebels are very well trained and armed; many of them carry both advanced and new weapons perhaps including heat seeking anti air missiles. France may lose more soldiers than may be politically palatable. But for that very reason they have the Légion étrangère, and they are already engaged.

Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I like their chances.