The Uk has provided 2 C17 transport planes to help the French efforts to restore order in Mali. France has sent around 550 troops to the central town of Mopti and the capital, Bamako. They are set to be joined by troops from the neighbouring African states of Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Togo, some of which are now expected to arrive in Mali within days.
Mali is a landlocked West African former colony of France, with a population of 14.5 million, half of whom live below the poverty line.
In March last year, a military coup toppled the democratically-elected leader, President Touré. The already weak central government lost control of the North of the country, which fell under the control of Ansar Dine, a radical Islamist group who have imposed Shari’ah law, and Tuareg rebels, who have long felt marginalised by the Malian government.
This is linked to Libya. After Gaddafi fell, the Tuareg armed fighters he had been using returned to Mali. This led to a separatist war and formation of the unrecognized separatist Islamist state of “Azawad”, occupying a third of Mali’s territory. While there is not (yet) evidence that Islamists there will use this base to plan foreign attacks, the West is nervy – especially at signs that the insurgents aim to sezie the whole country.
A number of atrocities so far have been reported so far, including the public stoning of a couple who were accused of having children outside marriage. Some 500,000 have reportedly fled the north since the Islamist takeover, 270,000 of them to neighboring countries. Ansar Dine has more recently begun to militarily move south, prompting UN concern and the French military intervention.
The UN authorises force
Last month the UN Security Council unanimously voted to give the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) an initial one-year mandate. The 3,300-troop force was tasked with helping recover the north of the country from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups.”
Last July, Hollande’s Foreign Minister, Lauren Fabius, said, ‘In the north, at one moment or another there will probably be the use of force.’
Yesterday, Hollande announced a surprise French military action. Hollande has said his military will stay “last as long as necessary” to help Mali’s government recover. “At stake is the very existence of the Malian state,” he said. He has stressed that France is working under the remit of a UN resolution authorising actionThere are effectively three objectives: 1) reorganise the Malian army; 2) secure the transitional government in Bamako; and 3) retake the north from Ansar Dine. This has been previously done in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The idea would be African troops on the ground, with Western air support.
I know there is little appetite for British boots on the ground, but this limited support with transport planes is perfectly legitimate, the right thing to do, and backed by UN Resolution. However, it is dismaying that there appears to be brewing another Islamist backed military uprising just as others are waning in the East.