Events in Mali are taking a troubling turn with the announcement over the weekend that France is to intervene militarily against Tawareq rebels and militants linked to Al Qaida. Britain too is sending at least one aircraft to assist the French.
The intervention comes after a year of political infighting, coup and counter-coup, allowing the rebels ample opportunity to advance to the capital.
The intervention by French forces has, at least for now, turned the tide against the rebels, who have made significant advances since declaring independence in the areas under their control in Mali’s north.
French President Francois Hollande says that Paris is assisting its former colony to turn back the threat of militants linked to Al Qaida in North Africa. Paris fears that the nation will slip into lawlessness, as in Somalia, and it believes that Mali has the potential to fall into chaos, akin to what has happened in Afghanistan in the past decades. While tens of thousands of Malians have been rendered homeless or been forced to move to the south of the country to avoid the spreading military conflict, international aid agencies have failed to keep pace with the growing refugee crisis.
Both the political and military leadership in Paris need to bear in mind that western intervention against militants in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq have had bloody consequences. Indeed, France should recall its own troubles in dealing with the Viet Minh in its former colony of Vietnam (French Indochina) and in dealing with the independence movement in Algeria. It is fine to draw up military plans in Paris, but it is a different story once those boots are on the ground, as troops get drawn into difficult peace-making operations.
France needs to have a clear and decisive course of action, not becoming entwined in a protracted campaign that results in French deaths and exacerbates the difficult plight of refugees. Perhaps international aid would have been a wiser course of action, given that the regional neighbours have already committed themselves to finding a military solution to the crisis.