15 Jan 2013

French intervention in Mali: what happens next?

Landing in Bamako, the capital of Mali, it’s hard to believe that this is a country at war.

Airport staff greeted us with their customary courtesy, as dozens of women in colourful dresses and butterfly headgear patiently queued outside to meet their family members arriving from Paris. The evening streets were quiet, as we drove past the yellow castle on the river which Colonel Gaddafi built as offices for the Malian government.

Yet many, if not most, people in Bamako have friends and relatives in the north where the fighting is taking place. Our driver’s sister is a nurse at the hospital in Gao, which has been under Islamist rule for the last nine months. He said that she told him there were far more dead than injured amongst the Islamists who’ve been targeted by French bombing raids for the past two days.

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The people of Gao stayed inside during the bombing, which destroyed the old customs house, part of the airport and other places which the Islamists had used as their headquarters.

People were especially happy to see that the police had been attacked. In recent months, the Islamist police in Gao have dragged suspected thieves and others to Sharia courts which have ordered the amputation of limbs and other punishments. Even smoking could earn you a flogging.

The Islamists have melted away into the desert or back into the population. They no longer control the city.

“Now the people of Gao are going out on the streets to have a smoke just because they can!” he said. “And women are going out without headscarves.”

The jihadi groups made the mistake of leaving the cover of the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu and heading for Konna, south of their northern strongholds. When the French attacked Konna from the air, the jihadis had no choice but to flee, exposing themselves along the roads and in the open desert, allowing the French to bomb again.

What next?

Reconnaissance drones have been pinpointing their camps on the outskirts of the cities for months now so the French knew exactly the location of fixed positions.

What happens next? As long as the French are attacking from the air, backed up by Malian and French ground forces, the jihadis will flee or lie low. But you can’t bomb forever, and the reason the jihadi groups were able to take over in the first place is that the Malian government infrastructure was so weak.

What’s the stop them coming back in a few months time? They’ll mount guerrilla raids, or maybe use terror tactics such as bombings and assassinations.

The French President Francois Hollande has said the French will stay “as long as it takes”. But he hasn’t made clear what “it” is.

Does he mean driving the jihadis out, or keeping them out?

Presumably the French would like African troops, who are now readying to come to Mali, to be involved. But they don’t have the training, logistics, equipment or tactics to be effective in the harsh conditions of the Sahara, against a determined and ruthless enemy. The French may be here for longer than they would like.

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2 reader comments

  1. Chi Ali says:

    Kindly please explain to me why the West fights mujahideen in Africa, e.g. Mali, Somalia…while arming and recognising as legitimate the mujahideen in Syria.

  2. Sadie says:

    The Algerian incident this last week and Cameron’s response/rhetoric/bluster should make the Chilcott report vital for the research, strategical planning for the future on this issue. Someone, somehow must be able to force it to the top by this reason. If it does not ever get aired then the civil servants or government officials should be sent the bill for it. It must be recognised in these circles that the days of being able to side ways something into a dusty filing cabinet are going. The taxpayer finances, we want the goods.

    Western governments have wilfully or ignorantly avoided dealing constructively with Africa and neighbours. They opted out to NGOs and hoped that when enough money and divided aims had been thrown at it that societal evolution would have happened in double quick time and of course it has not … but many NGOs have made good careers out of it!

    To just train-up the local forces is not enough. To put in Western style administration, business format is impracticable. Global warming cannot afford for that much airconditioning added to all that USA uses! Every continent has different cultures and religions. These have evolved for climate, – agriculture possibilities working with the climate, pace of life per climate and a nations personality is as climate moulds.

    So this all means we need for planning more than a bunch of macho men and Generals. Possibly to avoid any one ex-colonial power getting stuck with a past colony that it is an international committee/working group including locals for any specific area. etc, etc …… We are all, the public getting tired of politicians inadequacies on repetitive issues – it is all there now to watch or listen to, history is alive that way it no longer as an excuse on a dusty bookshelf.

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