FRANCE'S MALIAN INTERVENTION: A COMMENT
>>"Seen from a European standpoint, the French military intervention in Mali illustrates what the fight against radical Islamists might look like in the years ahead. While Western democracies are disengaging from their long, costly, and frustrating Afghanistan operation, they are still facing immense threats from groups much smaller than al-Qaeda that have shifted both techniques and targets. As states engage in operations to combat these post-Afghanistan threats within new political and budgetary environments at home, their strengths and limitations tend to show more acutely, while resource pooling and sharing becomes a necessity. Since early 2012, Islamist insurgents have controlled northern Mali. On January 11, France launched airstrikes to halt the insurgents’ advance further into the country, and West African nations have also approved the deployment of troops to confront the rebels. This French-African operation might provide a blueprint for international counterterrorism policies to come.... According to French official statements during the past few days, the Malian Islamist groups are highly mobile, and they have effective weaponry and motivated fighters. In addition, they are funded in part by kidnapping foreign citizens for ransom, a pattern which is likely here to stay. They aim to seize vast expenses of territory, and in Mali they are challenging the very existence of the state, taking advantage of the political impasse in the capital, Bamako, and of the weakness of the armed forces. Their ultimate goal is, no doubt, to extend their grip on other countries, as incidents during the past two years in Mauritania, Niger, and northern Nigeria have illustrated. In the worst-case scenario, Africa, Europe, and the West could be faced with the dire prospect of a destabilized West African region, with some countries or regions formally headed by radical religious groups while others will be permanently threatened by those groups. Such a destabilization of West Africa would also pose wider dangers, potentially threatening the sustainability of the region’s economy, the continuation of development and humanitarian projects, and the safety of expatriate workers. In that sense, the French intervention in Mali is an almost inevitable consequence of these terrorist groups’ strategy, especially as the insurgents decided to move swiftly toward Bamako. There are other factors at play that made the intervention possible, which becomes clear when the situation in Mali is compared to other conflict situations, past or present, including those in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria. The United Nations Security Council unanimously supports the preservation of Mali’s territorial integrity and an international, mostly African force deployment. The only reason the French intervened on their own ahead of the creation of the multinational force was the Islamist insurgents’ sudden advance. In this emergency phase, France is the de facto leader, primarily because preexisting positioning of troops and air assets in several African countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, and Senegal—gives it a decisive operational advantage over other Western countries. An EU operation in support of training and modernizing the Malian army is still in the organizational phase and will be implemented later.... Without entering into futile predictions about the length and depth of the French intervention in Mali, it can be said that Operation Serval represents a multifaceted test for France, the EU, and the West. Several questions arise. How much lasting and decisive support will Mali and France receive from friendly West African countries, and how timely and efficient will the EU training operation of Malian forces prove to be? How much further operational support will French forces receive from the United States and European partners? For example, what if there is a need for air assets that the French forces do not possess, such as AC-130 gunships, A-10 close air support aircraft, or missile-firing drones? Those capabilities are considered more suited than conventional fighter aircraft to the kind of operations currently under way, but only the United States can provide them".blockquote> Marc Pierini, "The West and Radical Islamists in Mali." The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 16 January 2013, in www.carnegieendowment.org.France and the US are at loggerheads over a French request for American air tankers to help refuel its jet aircraft operating over Mali, amid concerns in Paris that its military operations could come under strain without them. As France presses ahead with air strikes on jihadist fighters, military chiefs in Paris have told the US that they need three US air tankers to supply Rafale and Mirage jets, which have to fly huge distances over north Africa to carry out ground attacks. French officials believe that the Pentagon is willing to provide the three air tankers that France needs to back up its own fleet of five KC-135s. But French officials say the White House is “dragging its feet” over the issue and looking to limit its engagement. The Pentagon did not reply to initial enquiries from the Financial Times about the request from France. Washington’s reluctance to provide the aircraft is being seen in France as a sign of US caution about French operations in Mali. “The refuelling issue is a problem and we would like to overcome it,” said a French official. “Our current fleet of tankers is not sufficient to keep Rafale and the Mirage 2000D operating on a permanent basis above an operational theatre of this scale.” The US has offered France C-17 transport aircraft to fly troops and equipment into Mali. In the last few days, the US has gone some way to reducing acute tensions with France that emerged last week after the US wanted to charge France for the use of the C-17 aircraft. At the start of the Mali intervention, Washington insisted that the French government would have to pay the $20m bill for the use of American C-17s, needed to carry French mechanised battalions into theatre. After fierce protests from France, the US announced on Monday that it would provide the C-17s at no extra charge."James Blitz, "U.S. and France bicker over Fuel." The Financial Times. 21 January 2013, in www.ft.com. The decision by the current French government to militarily intervene in the conflict in the North African state of Mali can only be welcomed by all and sundry. Notwithstanding some less than intelligent carping by the Americans, it seems axiomatic that some Western power had to intervene in Mali in order to forestall a complete takeover of the country by Islamist forces with ties to extremist Islamist groupings including those with (allegedly) connections to the Al Qaeda group. And while it may be the case that the French will be 'bogged down', in Mali for x number of years, it would seem to me that given the proximity of Mali to the rest of North Africa and potentially the Mediterranean, that to allow Mali to be overrun by Islamist militants with ties to extra-regional extremists would be a recipe to have a Afghanistan in the North of Africa. Given the fact that Western and Central Europe are from a purely conventional military perspective, peace-laden, the deployment of French forces, both air and ground in this conflict seems to be an ultra-reasonable use of France's remaining military power. Especially, as French troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan. As the commentator, Mr. Paul Collier notes in the Financial Times, neutrality in the current situation would be disastrous 1. In short, all one can say is: Hurrah for la Belle France! 1. Paul Collier, "The West has let negligence in the Sahel turn into a nightmare." The Financial Times. 21 January 2013, in www.ft.com.