The bloody consequences of the French military intervention in Mali could not have been unexpected — and the attack in Algeria is most likely the first of more to come.
According to reports, Algerian officials expect the death toll to rise after their forces stormed a local gas complex that militants had seized control in retaliation of French armed action in Mali. The French have launched an attack to drive back extremist rebels who had taken control of northern Mali and were set to seize the rest of the country. The militant group that seized the Algerian gas complex and took hostages, some of whom were tragically killed, claimed to have done so in retaliation of the French action. It is more likely that they were looking for an excuse to sow destruction in pursuit of their aims.
Crucially, the French have the political and military support of many in Mali and its neighbouring nations. The squabbling and politicking that often delay effective multi-national military action must be kept to a minimum, as the defeat of extremists is in the interest of all states. African states must quickly deploy a regional force, which will take over the operation, while the international community needs to deliver on promises of necessary logistical support. An open-ended France-led operation will result in damaging accusations of neo-colonialism and anti-Muslim motives.
For now, France and the international community must stay the course on which they have embarked. British Prime Minister David Cameron has correctly warned that an effective response to the militant threat in North Africa will take years, “even decades”. Such a response cannot only be military, but must quickly move on to focus on the economic development of the region and on building effective states that can meet popular demands.
The world needs to grit its teeth against the threat of more actions like that in Algeria. If France and its allies are swayed before political stability and economic development take root in North Africa, militancy will be perceived to have won — and that cannot be allowed.