The Malian president, Dioncounda Traore, agreed to the deployment of 3,000 troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the outskirts of the capital Bamako. The troops will aid the government regain control of northern Mali.
Until now the Malian government had asked for foreign aid but did not endorse foreign troops entering the country to aid in the battle. After a coup in March this year the northern part of Mali was taken over by Tuareg separatists but they in turn were replaced by radical Islamists of the Ansar Dine and other radical Islamist movements after a brief alliance between the groups. The Ansar Dine and the other Islamist groups establish strict Sharia law in the areas they control. Some of the groups may be linked with Al Qaeda. The main towns and areas in the north are now under control of the Islamists including Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal. The Islamists have destroyed a number of important cultural artifacts in Timbuktu. One group MUJAO even executed a captured Algerian diplomat. Ironically the coup, led by a U.S. trained captain, was justified by the failure of the Malian government to put down separatists in the north.
There is division within ECOWAS concerning the deployment. Nigeria is very supportive of sending troops while Algeria is against the intervention. Mali and ECOWAS will now seek UN support for the military intervention. Headquarters of the troops will be on the outskirts of Mali. France has offered logistical support for the ECOWAS operation.
The U.N. Security Council has claimed that the northern Islamists include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other affiliated groups. No doubt this description is meant to gain support for intervention. The UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay claims there have been serious human rights violations and perhaps war crimes. The former coup leaders are still powerful in the Mali government and exert pressure behind the scenes to advance their own agendas.
The Malian request for assistance will be considered in a meeting chaired by Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday. The Security Council must provide a mandate for the ECOWAS intervention. An earlier plan was rejected because of lack of detail.