Published on 11 Jan 2013

Will anyone stop the Islamists in Mali?

For months the French have been agitating for intervention in Mali. Today Malian officials confirmed that the French military had arrived to help the Malian army fight Islamist advance.

“We are faced with a blatant aggression that is threatening Mali’s very existence. France cannot accept this,” said the French President, Francois Hollande, in a speech to diplomats and journalists this morning. “We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues.”

Radio France International , citing French diplomatic sources, said that some 30 French Special Forces arrived last night to prepare for both ground forces and an air campaign.

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Earlier this week, Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traore (above), installed after a military coup last March, asked for help. The heavily armed Islamists who control northern Mali – Malian groups Ansar Dine and Mujao as well as mainly Algerian jihadis from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb – were heading south, accompanied by several units from the Nigerian militiant group Boko Haram.

The Malian army was unable to stop them. Yesterday the Islamists took the town of Konna, the last settlement before Mopti, which marks the border between north and south.

White men spotted

Then last night, around 9pm, at least two French military Hercules transport planes landed in Sevare, about 10 miles from Mopti. Sources in Bamako say four Chadian helicopters also landed. White men seen around Sevare are believed to include Ukrainian and Belarusian chopper pilots as well as French special forces.

Today Malian forces, based at Sevare, drove back up the road to Konna where there has been fighting all day. Some sources say foreign forces have been helping them, and the town has now been returned to government hands.

For months the Europeans and Americans have been talking about intervening in Mali, because the Islamists who control the north are seen as a threat to Europe. But there is a more immediate danger: the jihadis have said that if the French intervene, the first thing they will do is kill the eight French hostages they are holding.

Bombings expected

If west African troops intervene, as envisaged in a UN Security Council resolution, expect bombings and other acts of terror in west African capitals.

Earlier this week I asked Philip Gordon, US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, what the Americans thought about Mali. “It will be some time for an effective intervention can take place,” he said. Other diplomats were talking about September. It looks as if the French no longer believe that waiting is an option – they’re ready to go.

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3 reader comments

  1. Feargus says:

    People who are that sure of their beliefs, and prepared to kill and destroy and believe their god wants them to are beyond the slightest smidgin of respect. This is the kind of conflict which should test our values in the west. I wasn’t in favour of Iraq, because it wasn’t a war of liberation but one of greed, same with Libya. Where were the western troops in Rwanda, Congo and Darfur, or today in Syria. Lets see how much we really care and go and help some people that need it at our own expense, with nothing to gain, that will test our morality when it comes to those people less fortunate than us. but of course the French are there because they have interests, and the rest of us will no doubt leave them to rot because we don’t.

  2. Haja says:

    This French intervention has for purpose to block the Islamic troops entering the Southern part of the country. I doubt the French troops will go into the conquest of the northern part occupied by Ansar Dine, AQMI and MUJAO. You analysis gives too much credit to this French intervention. It was however necessary as the provocation by the Islamist troops was reaching a whole new level, the question now is what’a next… After kicking them out of the region what would be the next step and what would be their responses?

  3. Nimrod says:

    Who are protecting the C17’s on the ground if Africa? Parliament was told that no combat troops were involved in the deployment, both by the Prime Minister overnight, and by Ministers in the House of Commons today. Bob Stewart MP raised the possibility that the RAF Regiment could be involved in the ‘small technical party’ deployed to the capital of Mali. Ministers replied that they neither had the numbers of RAF personnel deployed, or which branches of the RAF that they belonged too. The RAF Regiment has been the RAF Infantry charged with protecting aircraft and airfields since 1942 (look it up on Wikipedia, don’t take my word for it). In the recent attach on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, it was 51 Sqn RAF Regiment that was the main force that defeated the insurgents. So:

    1. If they are there in Mali (or will arrive soon) Ministers have either:

    a. Mislead Parliament on the composition of the ‘small technical party’ deployed.

    b. Insulted the RAF Regiment (and everyone who has ever served in it) by describing them as, in effect, combat ineffective.

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